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Posted November 5, 2002
Half A Tale
Without a doubt, Naipaul is a master of the English language, and this novel's nimbly simple prose amply proves that. I think he's the most erudite and versatile writer living today and I'd place his work among the best lessons in prose writing one can receive. He richly deserved the Nobel; he should've been given it decades back. But Half A Life is a half-told tale, an attempt that falls short of earlier Naipaullian masterpieces such as "A House for Mr. Biswas" and "A Bend In The River." The book begins interestingly enough -- with Willy Chandran's father discussing his Brahminical upbringing and his Gandhian commitment to eradicating from his mind the artificial barriers of caste, the latter an attempt at which he proves only half successful. After a promising opening set in my native India the novel begins to sputter, however. Chandran goes to London and begins his half-life, during the course of which he begins his sexual journey. Paralleling this journey of the loins is a journey of the heart, but in adequately describing the latter is where Naipaul falls short. Too much sex, too little development of the emotions and the reasons behind his actions; a number of hints and implied developments, unlike in "Biswas," where so much is said and so much is clear from what's said and left unsaid. Willy strikes up friendships with similarly half-life characters, including a West Indian immigrant whose life just peters out into nothingness, and a British lawyer/writer whose girlfriend Willy beds though the lawyer helped Willy publish his book. Willy, whose one book of short stories collects little praise but earns him an admirer, moves to his admirer's country in Africa after marrying her. She's a Portuguese African and a hybrid like Willy. Willy spends 18 years with her in the unnamed country (he mentions this fact in one sentence), during which time he never fully comprehends his surroundings or his acquaintances, just as he never fully comprehends himself, and he increases the number and intensity of his sexual adventures as though by bedding various women of various races he could somehow find himself. I loved the physical details in the smooth narrative (I admit I couldn't put the book down), but when I finished the 224-page work, I exclaimed: "That's it?" I wanted more, so much more, of the emotional side of the half-life characters, a designation that applies to almost all those who people the book. The prose was so controlled as to be inhibited, and it was as though Naipaul began writing it enthusiastically, lost enthusiasm in the middle of the book, and tried to revive it toward the end, succeeding only half-way. "Half A Life" was a sample, not a full course. A little disappointing for this Naipaul fan, for Naipaul has proven again and again that he's a master at providing rich meals that satisfy, sadden, humor and leave one in awe of a writer so at one with his work.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 1, 2011
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