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V S Naipaul

Undoubtedly the most controversial of novelists from the Commonwealth is V S Naipaul. For many years he was deprived of the Nobel Prize, largely it was rumoured because of the opposition of the doyen of Commonwealth literary studies in India, Prof Narasimaiah. This hostility, which I have heard the great man himself express forcefully, arose from the perception that Naipaul replicated the white man’s view of India, replete with contempt as much as criticism.

This view was not based on his fiction, which had not dealt with India, but on his travel books, the first two of which had been unremittingly hostile. This approach changed in the third, A Million Mutinies Now, but by then Narasimaiah was not to be placated. Still, the Nobel Committee was, and in 2000, the centenary year of the prize, Naipaul received it, a fitting tribute in my view to the most impressive writer of English fiction in recent years.

Naipaul’s writing career has spanned over half a century, and it is only in his most recent books that his inspiration has seemed to flag. Before that, he wrote brilliantly, and also managed remarkably to reinvent the subject and the style of his writing twice.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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