In V.S. Naipaul’s Writing on Conrad, We See Who He Truly Is

Something I wrote on Naipaul a few years ago, which I post now as a kind of memorial… It was published in The Smart Set April, 2015:

The fact is, Naipaul provides powerful ammunition for all sides of the debate. Were Naipaul simply a monster, he (and his writing) would not be so compelling. Revealing himself to be a monster in one instance, he will use that very quality to his own advantage in the next. This protean quality makes Naipaul larger, as a character, a novelist, and a thinker, than any of the categories meant to encompass him. Those, for instance, who want to dismiss Naipaul for what Wood calls his “conservatism”, find themselves, more often than not, moved by his “radical eyesight.” And vice versa. Inevitably, to read Naipaul is to experience a rather exciting push/pull of attraction and repulsion. You can see this even in the short quote from Packer’s review of the French biography above. Naipaul describes extremely ugly behavior. Further, he seems to take narcissistic pleasure (the word ‘narcissism’ comes up often in discussions of Naipaul) in doing so. But he ends with a thought that is sensitive and vulnerable. “I was utterly helpless. I have enormous sympathy for people who do strange things out of passion.” By turning his sympathy around, he elicits it from us.

more here.