Catching Up on Some Blogging
On Beauty

The Enigma of Arrival

I've been meaning to read some V. S. Naipaul since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature five years ago. Isn't that the best name for a writer? V. S. Naipaul.

Though I had planned to read Bend in the River or Middle Passage, when I stood at the bookstore picking out one to buy, I was intrigued by the comments on the back of The Enigma of Arrival, particularly this one:

V. S. Naipaul is a man who can inspire readers to follow him through the Slough of Despond and beyond.

I'm glad I read this book at a time I could read in huge time chunks, instead of my usual chapter or so every night before going to bed, because if I had read it my normal way, I think I would have gotten bored quickly. It is a very slowly moving novel, but well worth the read. It's language is stunningly beautiful.

Naipaul's novel is something of a memoir, or at least it appears to be. I'm curious what is memoir and what is novel. Why did he call it a novel?

It tells a story about how the man and writer have become separate and have to be reunited in order for the man to overcome his depression and the writer to really write.

He left Trinidad headed for London intending to become a writer, but he overlooked all the experiences he was having that could have really made him a writer. Eventually after some professional failures, he retreats to the countryside to a cottage on an old, deteriorating manor. This is the setting for the novel. It describes his walks in the countryside, commenting on the history and the changes and the people of the landscape. He walks these paths for twelve years, so he becomes intimately acquainted with individual trees and writes their history over these twelve years. Plus, we watch the garden and manor deteriorate despite efforts to prevent it. In its descriptive language it most reminded me of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

All this while, the author is finding himself. The novel concludes with him back in Trinidad for his sister's funeral, reconnecting with his roots -- the land, the family, and the rituals of the Hindu religion.

This is a powerful, beautiful work that I highly recommend for anyone who desires a slow read that shows how a human being lives through depression.


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charles martin

Wow. I miss being able to read freely and look forward to kicking the little ones off to school so I can enough silence to read slow moving novels again. Sounds great and I'll have to look out for it.

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