Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

The World Is What It Is by Patrick French

Judging by The Snowball and this portrait of Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, 2008 might go down as the Year of the Authorized Biography. French is blessed with a rich subject: any book on Naipaul is also a book about Trinidad, England, the Indian diaspora, family, marriage, friendship, race, class and contemporary literature. (Also — somewhat surprisingly given Naipaul's finicky, ascetic image — sex!) But it takes a steady hand to pull all these strands plus a formidable range of source material into a cohesive narrative, and French has it. Naipaul's contributions, meanwhile, are invaluable and characteristically cunning; while some of his revelations — especially regarding his outsize callousness toward the women in his life — will make you cringe, you can't help but admire his candor. It's a seamless union of author scrutiny and subject self-scrutiny — the perfect treatment for Naipaul, who has spent much of his writing life teasing out his own autobiographical enigmas.