The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul

Patrick French

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The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul

The World Is What It Is The Authorized Biography of V S Naipaul Since V S Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become In The Worl

  • Title: The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul
  • Author: Patrick French
  • ISBN: 9781400044054
  • Page: 146
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Since V S Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen, his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples, whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French offers the first authoritative biography of the controversial Nobel laureate, whose only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursuSince V S Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen, his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples, whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French offers the first authoritative biography of the controversial Nobel laureate, whose only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursuit of which goal nothing else was sacred.Beginning with a richly detailed portrait of Naipaul s childhood in colonial Trinidad, French gives us the boy born to an Indian family, the displaced soul in a displaced community, who by dint of talent and ambition finds the only imaginable way out a scholarship to Oxford London in the 1950s offers hope and his first literary success, but homesickness and depression almost defeat Vidia, his narrow escape aided by Patricia Hale, an Englishwoman who will devote herself to his work and well being She will stand by him, sometimes tenuously, for than four decades, even as Naipaul embarks on a twenty four year affair, which will awaken half dead passions and feed perhaps his greatest wave of dizzying creativity Amid this harrowing emotional life, French traces the course of the fierce visionary impulse underlying Naipaul s singular power, a gift to produce masterpieces of fiction and nonfiction.Informed by exclusive access to V S Naipaul s private papers and personal recollections, and by great feeling for his formidable body of work, French s revelatory biography does full justice to an enigmatic genius.

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    One thought on “The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul

    1. Paul on said:

      How do you solve a problem like Naipaul? I’ll stop the Sound of Music references straight away; but this will be a difficult review to write. Naipaul is a Nobel laureate and is certainly one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Notably irascible and difficult to pin down. Accused of a great deal, including racism and imperialism; more British than the British, a fan of Margaret Thatcher. He wrote some great novels and a good deal of reportage from his extensive travelling. He was an [...]

    2. Lawrence on said:

      Upon finishing this book, these are the words I whispered to myself: "What a fucking bastard." Here's how good Patrick French is: I knew exactly, exactly what was going to happen in the last twenty pages, because French had defined Naipaul's character so indelibly by that point. Yet those twenty pages still managed to draw tears.French has assembled an amazing book: meticulous reporting, gripping writing, and one of the most fascinating writers' lives I've ever looked into this deeply. Readers w [...]

    3. Tony on said:

      French, Patrick. THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS. The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul. (2008). ***. About 200 pages into this 500-page biography of Naipaul, I decided that I was no longer interested in knowing any more about him. Although deftly written by French, using all of the available sources, you think of the old saying: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” I have only read – I think – three of Naipaul’s books, all of which were excellent. When it comes to the man [...]

    4. Sam Schulman on said:

      I've written a piece on French's book together with Michael Slater's Dickens and Andrew Motion's Philiip Larkin at Templeton's InCharacter calledGoodish Writers, Bad-ish Men.We have many goodish writers in this country, but few great ones, and V.S. Naipaul is a great writer." - A.N. WilsonEveryone knows one thing about the life of Charles Dickens: the trauma of his childhood stung him into bestsellerdom. The 12-year-old boy whose parents were imprisoned for debt and who toiled in Warren's Blacki [...]

    5. Jonfaith on said:

      What a shitbag! Naipaul thrives on being a controversialist. This is sage. The author finds the soft areas in our hypocrisies about race and nation states. Naipaul exploits such. Quoting Mr. French, Naipaul's prose remains pellucid. His incorporation of these anxieties is an achievement. The Nobel Laureate's manipulation of such is well past the suspect. I have yet to broach the personal life of Vidia. Not to wax sensationalist, I couldn’t make up this shit.

    6. John on said:

      It must be difficult to write the biography of a writer of V. S. Naipaul's caliber. No living writer in the English language surpasses him in sheer talent, and I am hard-pressed to think of an equal. A reader familiar with Naipaul's flawless prose and witheringly cruel personal observations will inevitably expect similar talent from the writer's biographer. And if Patrick French does not here deliver the impossible, he at least comes close. The purely literary difficulties are compounded by the [...]

    7. Greta Nettleton on said:

      Author Patrick French has created a tour de force portrait of a great writer whose worldly success and emotional vulnerabilities eventually combined to push him off the deep end as a human being. I read this book for a chance to revisit the fine work that I remember admiring so much when I started to read Naipaul in college in the late 1970s (at the suggestion of a friend and fellow Duke student from Mexico City). A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, The Return of Eva Peron--I still have [...]

    8. K on said:

      A writer is what he isThe writer has laboured much to bring out the biography of a writer who has written autobiographical fiction besides his travel books all his life. Naipaul seem to have always lived a life of poverty, as given in this book too. He is often bailed out by BBC or other British institution when he was about to sink financially, once he is out of Oxford. Spendthrift and whore-monger, he is in trouble perpetually. So he worked in close association with British establishment, it a [...]

    9. Lyn on said:

      Patrick French had full cooperation from Naipaul in writing this warts and all biography. Naipaul is a great writer and a famously difficult person that he would so liberally expose himself , his correspondence, as well as the diaries of his first wife underscores his unsentimental respect for evidence (for me the foundation of his non-fiction works). The Naipaul family, early education, Trinidadian and Indian (Hindu) antecedents make an engaging story the outcome (including a Nobel Prize in L [...]

    10. Sesh on said:

      I don't generally read biographies, but this one I could not pass on. I am not a fan of V.S. Naipaul's writing. I could only manage to finish one book of his, "A House for Mr. Biswas". But when I read Paul Theroux's account of is friendship with Naipaul ("Sir Vidia's Shadow") I was intrigued. Naipaul was portrayed as selfish, brilliant, obstinate, proud, unfeeling, shocking, and more. How could you not want to know more about him? French charts Naipaul's personal life through all of its ups and [...]

    11. Cnap on said:

      This confirmed what I suspected from reading Naipaul all these years and that is that he is an extremely insecure and nervous person who is brilliant at critically picking everything apart. He is able to spot flaws and would be characterized as the teacher who groans with pleasure when finding a mistake on a paper, then feels deep but temporary satisfaction when the red pen makes a big check mark.I feel sympathy for him, also. He is a skinny little black man who made his way in a big white man's [...]

    12. Bookmarks Magazine on said:

      Reviewers were mostly astounded that such a good writer as V. S. Naipaul could be such a horrible person. Though he has always been known as prickly, critics seemed to compete for new adjectives to describe the man who emerges in this book. Michael Dirda's list: "whiney, narcissistic, insulting, needy, callous, impolite, cruel, vengeful, indecisive, miserly, exploitative, snobbish, sadistic, self-pitying and ungrateful." Patrick French, by contrast, earned quite positive labels for his well-writ [...]

    13. Paul Garland on said:

      A portrait of V.S. Naipaul, by an author who had access to the letters and papers previous authors did not. Not sure how it was received by Vidia, but it paints a picture of a type of original genius and clarity which is rare and certainly of benefit to the understanding of post-colonialism, migration, history and religion. Taken alongside the biography by Paul Theroux, also a great supplement to help you understand how writers relate to other writers.

    14. Jane E on said:

      What an unpleasant man. What a pity given how well he writes and the broad nature of his literary tastes. It might have been better not to know quite so much about the man. Paul Theroux comes off even worse. This book was purchased in Pashigat, Arunachul Pradesh, a tiny and remote town. Who would think they had a dozen book stands. It proved a great filler for the down time there always is when traveling.

    15. Dan Oko on said:

      An extraordinary account of the life of an extraordinary author. You won't like Naipaul anybody for having read French's insightful study of his life and work. If, as the Modern Lovers used to say, nobody ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole; the same cannot be said of Naipaul.Check my Austin Chronicle review here:

    16. Holly on said:

      So far, engrossing. I love Naipaul's work and continue to be fascinated by his misanthropic behavior, apparent self-loathing and egotism, bigotry, and magic way with language. August -- OK, I am still reading this. It's very rich and -- for me -- needs to be ingested in doses. Lots of heavy stuff about Naipaul's twisted relationship with the Argentina woman, sad stuff about his wife Pat (which makes me both frustrated about her and sympathetic), etc.

    17. Bhole on said:

      One of the most brilliant biography of an extra-ordinary writer of our time

    18. Andrew on said:

      A lot has been made of how frank this biography is. It’s certainly true that V.S. Naipaul gave his biographer Patrick French access to a huge amount of material, including things that other people would have tried to keep quiet about. For example the racism, the bigotry, the use of prostitutes, the affairs, the betrayals, the occasional violence, the perpetual cruelty. Yes, this is a very frank biography.But what impressed me most about the book is how French succeeded in making Naipaul into a [...]

    19. Darryl on said:

      Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V.S.) Naipaul (1932-), the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of the most highly regarded authors of the 20th century. He was born in Trinidad, and his ancestors were part of the Indian migration to this Caribbean island in the 19th century. He was awarded a scholarship to Oxford in 1950, where he met his wife, the former Patricia Hale. After his graduation he dedicated his life to becoming a writer, and was financially supported by Pat during his early [...]

    20. Raghu on said:

      This book is a brilliant tribute to one of the greatest writers in English of the past few decades. The narrative pace is good and it is gripping to read. When I finished the book, I thought it is a 'four star' book; but then on reflection, I felt that it was lacking in a few qualities and hence I ended up with one star less.Vidia Naipaul emerges as a very complicated persona - narcissistic, intellectually brilliant, insensitive, original thinker, selfish and honest. In his own words, Naipaul wr [...]

    21. Mark on said:

      The book is excellently written, compelling and shocking in equal measure and a painful reminder of the trauma inflicted on a child of the post colonial racial confusion and colour/class consciousness still painfully evident in Trinidadian society. It achieves this through the recounting of the legendary, pathetic, tragic - albeit prolific - life of VS Naipaul. The book left me with my dilemma over Naipaul fully intact. French quotes Linton Kwesi Johnson on Naipaul 'He's a living example of how [...]

    22. Stephanie on said:

      This was and continued to be a bit of slow start -- first you seemingly learned about each sugar cane stalk in Trinidad, each newspaper article written by Naipaul, each letter written to each person in his life, and then finally every final detail about his long-suffering (physically and mentally) wife's death. In the end what I learned is that Naipaul, one of my favorite writers (read A Bend in the River), is really a jerk. He's self-absorbed, masochistic (internally and at times, sexually), re [...]

    23. Warren on said:

      Starred Review. V.S. Naipaul's biographer aims not to sit in judgment of the Nobel laureate, but to expose the subject with ruthless clarity to the calm eye of the reader. In this he succeeds admirably. Descendant of poor Brahmins, born in 1932 in Trinidad and educated in Oxford, Naipaul is haunted by matters of race, colonialism and sex. He is, says award-winning author French (Younghusband), both the racist (against those darker than he) and the victim of racial prejudice, tendencies that come [...]

    24. Joshua on said:

      One of the best biographies I've ever read about an enigmatic, polarizing author--at times the equal of V.S. Naipaul's novels themselves. A brilliant character story, and a noble attempt to understand the Nobel Prize winner author, who stands up for the marginalized in his fiction but can act like a racist boor in interviews and talks. French takes us through his colonial boyhood, his difficult years trying to eke out an existence in Oxford and London, and his long, tortured career as a writer a [...]

    25. Tasha on said:

      When asked to explain the symbolism of the bindi he said, "The dot means: my head is empty."And what of Khomeini's fatwa on the author Salman Rushdie? "It's an extreme form of literary criticism."With gems like these, it hard to decide if I will absolutely never or absolutely must read any of Naipaul's writing. The biography is long and sometimes dry. The beginning which details his childhood in Trinidad is, sadly, the best part of the 500-page book. A bigoted, misogynistic racist who beat his m [...]

    26. Wilhelm Weber on said:

      Fascinating how this man becomes a novelist - its hard work on his part all the way up from school and through his college and university years and it seems he was always more driven, than in control. He never really seems to enjoy anything, needs to write and does this and that to experiment. Tragically insecure, unbalanced and without a hold on life, but still very much dominating other people. Especially those who love him. He does have a unique view on things and Patrick French paints a pict [...]

    27. Robert Boyd on said:

      This is an authorized biography, but it hardly seems like a whitewash. When I first heard about it, it sounded as if Naipaul were attempting to counteract the negative press he got due to Paul Theroux's In Sir Vidia's Shadow. But the Naipaul in this book is just as bad--worse even--than the one in Theroux's book.Indeed, Naipaul comes of a little like Celine; a great writer and a terrible person.As I read it, it made me want to go back a reread some of my favorite Naipaul books--A House for Mr. B [...]

    28. Valentina on said:

      How can such a talented writer, insightful on all things human, canny observer of the world, restless traveler, also be such a self-centered, self-righteous, self-indulging man with little respect for anything or anyone? If you've been searching for the ultimate book on evil meet genius, look no furtherThis biography of Nobel Prize winning, Trinidad-born, English author of Indian descent V.S. Naipaul is an absolute masterpiece, for how it traces its subject life story, paralleling it with that o [...]

    29. Katie on said:

      Fans of Naipaul's work - or those interested in other writers grappling with post-colonial identities - will enjoy this biography. It is well-researched and in-depth, but also interesting and an enjoyable read. While I came away liking Naipul less than before, particularly with regards to his treatment towards his wife, I also came away with a greater appreciation of his work and his struggles in life. This book really made me think about what it takes to be a great artist - author, painter, or [...]

    30. Pat on said:

      This book was well-written and it shows Sir Vidia with all of his warts, of which there are very many. However, Naipaul is just such an odious character that I couldn't stay interested in his life. He treated his first wife just abysmally. He carried on an affair for 23 years of his marriage and, as soon as his first wife died, he dropped the mistress and married another woman many years younger than him. While there are some of his books that I have liked, especially some of the early ones, I j [...]

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