Half a Life

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Overview

Half a Life is the story of Willie Chandran, whose father, heeding the call of Mahatma Gandhi, turned his back on his brahmin heritage and married a woman of low caste - a disastrous union he would live to regret, as he would the children that issued from it. When Willie reaches manhood, his flight from the travails of his mixed birth takes him from India to London, where, in the shabby haunts of immigrants and literary bohemians of the 1950s, he contrives a new identity. This is what happens as he tries to ...
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Overview

Half a Life is the story of Willie Chandran, whose father, heeding the call of Mahatma Gandhi, turned his back on his brahmin heritage and married a woman of low caste - a disastrous union he would live to regret, as he would the children that issued from it. When Willie reaches manhood, his flight from the travails of his mixed birth takes him from India to London, where, in the shabby haunts of immigrants and literary bohemians of the 1950s, he contrives a new identity. This is what happens as he tries to defeat self-doubt in sexual adventures and in the struggle to become a writer - strivings that bring him to the brink of exhaustion, from which he is rescued, to his amazement, only by the love of a good woman. And this is what happens when he returns with her - carried along, really - to her home in Africa, to live, until the last doomed days of colonialism, yet another life not his own.
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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
'Half a Life,' the fierce new novel by V. S. Naipaul, the new Nobel laureate, is one of those rare books that stands as both a small masterpiece in its own right and as a potent distillation of the author's work to date . . . It deftly combines Dickensian delight in character with political and social observation . . . while recounting with uncommon elegance and acerbity the coming of age of its hero, Willie Chandran ... Mr. Naipaul endows his story with the heightened power of a fable. With 'Half a Life' he has given us a powerful tale of one man's journey from childhood to middle age while at the same time creating a resonant parable about the convulsions of modern history, both the dying of old inequities and the rise of new illusions, and their spiritual legacy of homelessness and dislocation.
John Carey
As sly and funny as anything Naipaul has written . . . He is still mining his richest obsessions . . . The classic that his new novel calls to mind is Voltaire's Candide. There is the same mocking simplicity of style, the same heartless elegance of design . . . Nobody who enjoys seeing English beautifully controlled should miss this novel.
Jason Cowley
A surprise and a pleasure . . . here, at last, is a work of pure imagination, though the themes are characteristic in their complex peculiarity . . . Naipaul has produced the most complex and demanding body of work of any post-war British writer . . . In sentences of great precision and balance, Naipaul reanimates the dilemmas of the late and post-colonial experience . . . He reminds us again of what a fine and unusual writer he is . . . In the canon of contemporary British writing he is without peer: a cold, clear-eyed prophet, a scourge of sentimentality, irrationalism and lazy left-liberal prejudices. Read him.
Paula Burnett
Naipaul writes a prose as clean as a stripped wand, but however plain the language, the ideas it delivers are not. . . . He is still peerless as a deviser of the shocking icon. He builds a scene of metaphysical loss as compelling as any Renaissance canvas of the expulsion from paradise.
Amit Chaudhuri
No writer has written more tellingly about the vocation of writing than V. S. Naipaul. . . . this new novel, Half a Life, shows us that Naipaul's absorption in how he came to be a writer is still fresh. . . . The pages about London glow, and bear comparison with anything that Naipaul has done . . . Almost casually, but beautifully, achieved . . . Captures in miniature the exceptional trajectory of Naipaul's oeuvre-the figure of the father, the life of the writer, and, finally, an enquiry into the origins of the colonial landscape itself.
Maya Jaggi
The foremost literary interpreter of the third world for a British and American readership.
Jonathan Bate
Genuinely powerful in a deeply politically incorrect way.
Farrukh Dhondy
Fresh . . . A novel with a purpose . . . Through the evocation of three continents and several decades, without calling on public events and purely through the narrative of a life, V. S. Naipaul gives us a moral tale which captures the evanescence of our times.
Sunday Times
Read it for its beautifully controlled English.
Stuart Price
One of the world's greatest living novelists . . . A writer whose world-view has been characterised by rigorous inquiry . . . A fascinating study . . . Naipaul has thankfully lost none of his grace, style, or storytelling power in this beautiful novel.
Rachel Cusk
Like a series of musical variations, the novel that follows [the first lines] never departs from them essence . . . This is brilliant, affecting stuff: the novel's melancholy drama is played out on the furthest margins of fiction, where things are recollected rather than observed.
From The Critics
Nearly 150 years ago, Ivan Goncharov crafted a jewel in the crown of the Russian novel, the astonishing Oblomov. Astonishing because, like a more profound and prolix Seinfeld script, the novel was about almost nothing. Or rather, it charted its titular hero's quest for nothingness—he spends the book's pages fretting about whether to get out of bed in the morning. Willie Chandram, the protagonist of V.S. Naipaul's thirteenth novel, could be Oblomov's twenty-first-century psychic kin. Journalist, traveler, exile, Willie is busier than the Russian, but if Goncharov's memorable creation is a titan of torpor, an indolent puppeteer who's let the strings of his spirit go slack, Willie is an Odysseus of aimlessness, terminally, perhaps even willfully, adrift.

In-depth studies of subtle wonders or disorders, rarefied states of mind or being, are tricky to pull off—yet can be priceless. With Half a Life, Naipaul makes masterful fiction of the story of a sad, unsung yet representative figure—the man who never quite "gets it," slave to an unclear destiny, a soul who can't seem to claim his own life as his.

At sixty-nine, after a forty-year career, Naipaul is a preeminent literary voice. In such novels as A House for Mr. Biswas and A Bend in the River and eleven volumes of nonfiction (Among the Believers, India: A Million Mutinies Now), he's become one of the brightest stars among postcolonial writers. A longtime resident of England born in Trinidad to an Indian family, Naipaul excels at rendering the clashes of the Third and First Worlds—between, for example, Islamic fundamentalism and theEnlightenment cult of progress that remains the West's intellectual credo. Prisoners either of shopworn tradition or disillusioned victims of soured revolts, the men and women he writes about are helpless.

In lucid prose, Naipaul has long lifted the veil on the Caribbean, Iran and South America while himself retaining poignant faith in a central Western tenet, "the idea of the pursuit of happiness," which he celebrated in a 1999 New York Times editorial. Adhering to this ideal and casting a cold eye on Third World boosterism has earned Naipaul some vilification (he's a traitor to his kind!), yet he perseveres—his secret-sharing reportage on multifarious "hearts of darkness" reaping comparisons to Joseph Conrad.

For Willie Chandram, the pursuit of happiness is bollixed from the start. From his father, he inherits a fatal passivity. The novel begins brilliantly, with W. Somerset Maugham mistakenly taking the elder Chandram as a model for the Wisdom of the East in The Razor's Edge. A mendicant who confesses that "I foolishly gave up English education in response to the mahatma's call, and unfitted myself for life," Willie's father only looks like a sage; after the success of Maugham's bestseller, he locks himself into pretending the self-sacrificing life of one. But resentment is his keynote; for actual gurus, a vow of silence is a spiritual tool—Chandram senior often chooses silence too, but passive aggressiveness motivates his vow.

A martyr to his father's marriage—the old man had wed a lower-caste woman out of condescending pity—Willie flees his unhappy childhood. In bohemian England of the 1950s, not only does he exaggerate the Indian "exoticism" that embarrasses him, but he whores his heritage by writing radio scripts for the BBC on Third World subjects. He tries, too, to write genuine stories about his Indian childhood, but then sabotages them by ripping off plots from Hollywood films. He also, fumblingly, wretchedly, seeks love. Basically, he's desperate: "All that he had now was an idea—it was like a belief in magic—that one day something would happen, an illumination would come to him, and he would be taken by a set of events to the place he should go."

Events indeed conspire, and he finds himself in Africa. On arrival, no more certain of himself than before, he resolves, "I must not unpack. I must never behave as though I'm staying," but he stays for eighteen years. He's fallen in love with an African woman, and he surrenders his life to hers for nearly two decades. But years of self-abnegation, of compliance to anyone's wishes other than his own, erupt in him in a frenzy of illicit sex; finally, as the continent around him crumbles in the last days of colonialism, he realizes that even this passion is only some obscure punishment. At last, in his forties, he leaves Africa and his wife behind. Sensuality having offered him no more release than the self-denial he learned from the father he despised, he must go on seeking.

Tragic in its implications, Half a Life ruthlessly examines both the inward-turning solipsism of the East and the conquesting rage of the West—political concerns, yes, but also warring aspects of the human spirit. The book is bitter, bracing and—in deep and subtle ways—terrifying.

Publishers Weekly
V.S. Naipaul has often been accused of being ungenerous, especially in his scathing accounts of Third World countries. His slim new novel tacitly poses the question of the worth of generosity without clarity and purpose. Willie Chandran, the central figure here, is born in India in the 1930s, the son of a bitter mixed caste marriage between a Brahmin and a "backwards" person, or untouchable. Willie learns as a child to despise his father's ineffectuality and his mother's coarseness. His father's vague motive in marrying his mother had been to break out of the provincial mold in which he was raised and to "live out a life of sacrifice," but too late he discovered that he retained all the prejudices of his caste and despised his wife. Going to London on a scholarship, Willie mixes in immigrant and bohemian circles, and even publishes a book. Naipaul's detached rendering of Willie's travails shows what happens to a young man who pieces his life together around the great, central dread of not being taken seriously the image of his father as an "idler" is always in his mind. Willie meets Ana, a woman of mixed African descent, when she writes him a fan letter about his novel. They become lovers. Willie goes back with Ana to her large outback estate in the "half and half" world of a Portuguese colony like Mozambique, where he remains for 18 years. Naipaul's plain narrative is studded with beautifully realized scenes, such as the London party at which a newspaper editor reads his own, self-written obituary, or the night Willie goes to an African brothel with Alvaro, an estate overseer. Although this novel does not aspire to the breadth of Naipaul's earlier fiction, it reminds us that his visionis on par with Conrad's or Graham Greene's. 40,000 first printing; 5-city author tour. (Oct. 24) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In his latest work, Naipaul continues to explore the politics of place and identity, showing how imaginative constructs become just as important and often more "real" than "reality" itself. While those with whom we surround ourselves may never see beyond a carefully groomed fa ade, who we really are eventually catches up with us. Willie Chandran (named after a famous writer) and his unfortunate sister, Sarojini, are born to parents who have sacrificed the true meanings of their lives. In an attempt to offer his life like his hero, Mahatma Gandhi, Willie's Brahmin father marries a coarse, "backward" girl from a lower caste who is at the university on a scholarship through the kindness of the Maharaja. Forever feeling his father's sacrifice of a life befitting a Brahmin and his mother's of her only chance at a course of study, which could have changed her life, Willie seems doomed to search forever for his rightful place in the world. Unmistakably autobiographical in nature, in keeping with several of his previous writings, this is a searing coming-of-age account without, of course, a tidy ending. Every public and academic library should add a copy or two not only because of the book's merits but because of Naipaul's stature. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01.] Michelle Reale, Elkins Park Free Lib., PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"A masterpiece of implicitness . . . explicitly concerned with drawing out the metaphysical-private while keeping it embedded in society and history . . . The ironies in Half a Life wind like a fugue into infinity . . . Identity is an enigma . . . To make that sentiment breathe in the mouth of a living character, and then rise from the page with silent laughter, is a beautiful completion: the mark of a genius and a cause of unending delight." — Lee Siegel, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"As disquieting as anything [Naipaul] has ever written . . . His terse prose works, as always, to imply a world in a phrase." — Michael Gorra, New York Times Book Review

"A troubling novel, genuinely moving . . . disturbing in all the right ways . . . the scenes of social encounters are brilliant, set against the twilight of colonial rule . . . A stunning book, three continents, three journeys, the evergreen themes of caste and class, of growing up." — Betsy Willeford, Miami Herald

"Naipaul's style is so frank it seems intimate, and the awful characters are studied and well crafted. Behind the matter-of-fact style is a cuttingly ironic view of human relations . . . When Naipaul talks, we listen." — Diane Mehta, The Atlantic Monthly

"Naipaul is a master of English prose, and the prose of Half a Life is as clean and cold as a knife." — J. M. Coetzee, New York Review of Books

"'Half a Life,' the fierce new novel by V. S. Naipaul, the new Nobel laureate, is one of those rare books that stands as both a small masterpiece in its own right and as a potent distillation of the author's work to date . . . It deftly combines Dickensian delight in character with political and social observation . . . while recounting with uncommon elegance and acerbity the coming of age of its hero, Willie Chandran ... Mr. Naipaul endows his story with the heightened power of a fable. With 'Half a Life' he has given us a powerful tale of one man's journey from childhood to middle age while at the same time creating a resonant parable about the convulsions of modern history, both the dying of old inequities and the rise of new illusions, and their spiritual legacy of homelessness and dislocation." — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"As sly and funny as anything Naipaul has written . . . He is still mining his richest obsessions . . . The classic that his new novel calls to mind is Voltaire's Candide. There is the same mocking simplicity of style, the same heartless elegance of design . . . Nobody who enjoys seeing English beautifully controlled should miss this novel." — John Carey, Sunday Times

"A surprise and a pleasure . . . here, at last, is a work of pure imagination, though the themes are characteristic in their complex peculiarity . . . Naipaul has produced the most complex and demanding body of work of any post-war British writer . . . In sentences of great precision and balance, Naipaul reanimates the dilemmas of the late and post-colonial experience . . . He reminds us again of what a fine and unusual writer he is . . . In the canon of contemporary British writing he is without peer: a cold, clear-eyed prophet, a scourge of sentimentality, irrationalism and lazy left-liberal prejudices. Read him." — Jason Cowley, The Observer Review

"Naipaul writes a prose as clean as a stripped wand, but however plain the language, the ideas it delivers are not. . . . He is still peerless as a deviser of the shocking icon. He builds a scene of metaphysical loss as compelling as any Renaissance canvas of the expulsion from paradise." — Paula Burnett, The Independent

"No writer has written more tellingly about the vocation of writing than V. S. Naipaul. . . . this new novel, Half a Life, shows us that Naipaul's absorption in how he came to be a writer is still fresh. . . . The pages about London glow, and bear comparison with anything that Naipaul has done . . . Almost casually, but beautifully, achieved . . . Captures in miniature the exceptional trajectory of Naipaul's oeuvre-the figure of the father, the life of the writer, and, finally, an enquiry into the origins of the colonial landscape itself." — Amit Chaudhuri, Times Literary Supplement

"The foremost literary interpreter of the third world for a British and American readership." — Maya Jaggi, The Guardian

"Genuinely powerful in a deeply politically incorrect way." — Jonathan Bate, Daily Telegraph

"Fresh . . . A novel with a purpose . . . Through the evocation of three continents and several decades, without calling on public events and purely through the narrative of a life, V. S. Naipaul gives us a moral tale which captures the evanescence of our times." — Farrukh Dhondy, Literary Review

"Read it for its beautifully controlled English." — The Sunday Times

"One of the world's greatest living novelists . . . A writer whose world-view has been characterised by rigorous inquiry . . . A fascinating study . . . Naipaul has thankfully lost none of his grace, style, or storytelling power in this beautiful novel." — Stuart Price, Independent

"Like a series of musical variations, the novel that follows [the first lines] never departs from them in essence . . . This is brilliant, affecting stuff: the novel's melancholy drama is played out on the furthest margins of fiction, where things are recollected rather than observed." — Rachel Cusk, Evening Standard

"Naipaul's first novel in six years is another installment in the extended fictional autobiography. . . . [This novel] may tell us more about the essential Naipaul than he has ever heretofore revealed. . . . The work of a master who has rarely, if ever, written better." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375707285
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/8/2002
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 663,160
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

V. S. Naipaul
V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River and a collection of letters, Between Father and Son. He lives in Wiltshire, England.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including Half a Life, A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and a collection of letters, Between Father and Son. In 2001 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Wiltshire, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 17, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chaguanas, Trinidad
    1. Education:
      Queen's Royal College, Trinidad, 1943-48; B.A., University College, Oxford, 1953

Read an Excerpt

1

A Visit from Somerset Maugham

*

Willie Chandran asked his father one day, "Why is my middle name Somerset? The boys at school have just found out, and they are mocking me."

His father said without joy, "You were named after a great English writer. I am sure you have seen his books about the house."

"But I haven't read them. Did you admire him so much?"

"I am not sure. Listen, and make up your own mind."

And this was the story Willie Chandran's father began to tell. It took a long time. The story changed as Willie grew up. Things were added, and by the time Willie left India to go to England this was the story he had heard.

*

The writer (Willie Chandran's father said) came to India to get material for a novel about spirituality. This was in the 1930s. The principal of the maharaja's college brought him to me. I was doing penance for something I had done, and I was living as a mendicant in the outer courtyard of the big temple. It was a very public place, and that was why I had chosen it. My enemies among the maharaja's officials were hounding me, and I felt safer there in the temple courtyard, with the crowds coming and going, than in my office. I was in a state of nerves because of this persecution, and to calm myself I had also taken a vow of silence. This had won me a certain amount of local respect, even renown. People would come to look at me being silent and some would bring me gifts. The state authorities had to respect my vow, and my first thought when I saw the principal with the little old white fellow was that it was a plot to make me talk. This made me very obstinate.People knew that something was afoot and they stood around to watch the encounter. I knew they were on my side. I didn't say anything. The principal and the writer did all the talking. They talked about me and they looked at me while they talked, and I sat and looked through them like someone deaf and blind, and the crowd looked at all three of us.

That was how it began. I said nothing to the great man. It's hard to credit now, but I don't believe I had heard about him when I first saw him. The English literature I knew about was Browning and Shelley and people like that, whom I had studied at the university, for the year or so I was there, before I foolishly gave up English education in response to the mahatma's call, and unfitted myself for life, while watching my friends and enemies growing in prosperity and regard. That, though, is something else. I will tell you about it some other time.

Now I want to go back to the writer. You must believe that I had said nothing to him at all. But then, perhaps eighteen months later, in the travel book the writer brought out there were two or three pages about me. There was a lot more about the temple and the crowds and the clothes they were wearing, and the gifts of coconut and flour and rice they had brought, and the afternoon light on the old stones of the courtyard. Everything the maharaja's headmaster had told him was there, and a few other things besides. Clearly the headmaster had tried to win the admiration of the writer by saying very good things about my various vows of denial. There were also a few lines, perhaps a whole paragraph, describing—in the way he had described the stones and the afternoon light—the serenity and smoothness of my skin.

That was how I became famous. Not in India, where there is a lot of jealousy, but abroad. And the jealousy turned to rage when the writer's famous novel came out during the war, and foreign critics began to see in me the spiritual source of The Razor's Edge.

My persecution stopped. The writer—to the general surprise, an anti-imperialist—had, in his first Indian book, the book of travel notes, written flatteringly of the maharaja and his state and his officials, including the principal of the college. So the attitude of everybody changed. They pretended to see me as the writer had seen me: the man of high caste, high in the maharaja's revenue service, from a line of people who had performed sacred rituals for the ruler, turning his back on a glittering career, and living as a mendicant on the alms of the poorest of the poor.

It became hard for me to step out of that role. One day the maharaja himself sent me his good wishes by one of the palace secretaries. This worried me a lot. I had been hoping that after a time there might be other religious excitements in the city, and I would be allowed to go away, and work out my own way of life. But when during an important religious festival the maharaja himself came barebacked in the hot afternoon sun as a kind of penitent and with his own hand made me offerings of coconuts and cloth which a liveried courtier—a scoundrel whom I knew only too well—had brought, I recognised that breaking out had become impossible, and I settled down to live the strange life that fate had bestowed on me.

I began to attract visitors from abroad. They were principally friends of the famous writer. They came from England to �nd what the writer had found. They came with letters from the writer. Sometimes they came with letters from the maharaja's high officials. Sometimes they came with letters from people who had previously visited me. Some of them were writers, and months or weeks after they had visited there were little articles about their visits in the London magazines. With these visitors I went over this new version of my life so often that I became quite at ease with it. Sometimes we talked about the people who had visited, and the people with me would say with satisfaction, "I know him. He's a very good friend." Or words like that. So that for five months, from November to March, the time of our winter or "cold weather," as the English people said, to distinguish the Indian season from the English season, I felt I had become a social figure, someone at the periphery of a little foreign web of acquaintances and gossip.

It sometimes happens that when you make a slip of the tongue you don't want to correct it. You try to pretend that what you said was what you meant. And then it often happens that you begin to see that there is some truth in your error. You begin to see, for instance, that to subtract from someone's good name can also be said to detract from that name. In some such way, contemplating the strange life that had been forced on me by that meeting with the great English writer, I began to see that it was a way of life that for some years I had been dreaming of: the wish to renounce, hide, run away from the mess I had made of my life.

I must go back. We come from a line of priests. We were attached to a certain temple. I do not know when the temple was built or which ruler built it or for how long we have been attached to it; we are not people with that kind of knowledge. We of the temple priesthood and our families made a community. At one time I suppose we would have been a very rich and prosperous community, served in various ways by the people whom we served. But when the Muslims conquered the land we all became poor. The people we served could no longer support us. Things became worse when the British came. There was law, but the population increased. There were far too many of us in the temple community. This was what my grandfather told me. All the complicated rules of the community held, but there was actually very little to eat. People became thin and weak and fell ill easily. What a fate for our priestly community! I didn't like hearing the stories my grandfather told of that time, in the 1890s.

My grandfather was skin and bones when he decided he had to leave the temple and the community. He thought he would go to the big town where the maharaja's palace was and where there was a famous temple. He made such preparations as he could, saving up little portions of rice and flour and oil, and putting aside one small coin and then another. He told no one anything. When the day came he got up very early, in the dark, and began to walk to where the railway station was. It was very many miles away. He walked for three days. He walked among people who were very poor. He was more wretched than most of them, but there were people who saw that he was a starving young priest and offered him alms and shelter. At last he came to the railway station. He told me that he was by this time so frightened and lost, so close to the end of his strength and courage, that he was noticing nothing of the world outside. The train came in the afternoon. He had a memory of crowd and noise, and then it was night. He had never travelled by train before, but all the time he was looking inward.

In the morning they came to the big town. He asked his way to the big temple and he stayed there, moving about the temple courtyard to avoid the sun. In the evening, after the temple prayers, there was a distribution of consecrated food. He was not left out of that. It was not a great deal, but it was more than he had been living on. He tried to behave as though he were a pilgrim. No one asked questions, and that was the way he lived for the first few days. But then he was noticed. He was questioned. He told his story. The temple officials didn't throw him out. It was one of these officials, a kindly man, who suggested to my grandfather that he could become a letter-writer. He provided the simple equipment, the pen and nibs and ink and paper, and my grandfather went and sat with the other letter-writers on the pavement outside the courts near the maharaja's palace.

Most of the letter-writers there wrote in English. They did petitions of various sorts for people, and helped with various government forms. My grandfather knew no English. He knew Hindi and the language of his region. There were many people in the town who had run away from the famine area and wanted to get news to their families. So there was work for my grandfather and no one was jealous of him. People were also attracted to him because of the priestly clothes he wore. He was able after a while to make a fair living. He gave up skulking about the temple courtyard in the evenings. He found a proper room, and he sent for his family. With his letter-writing work, and with his friendships at the temple, he got to know more and more people, and so in time he was able to get a respectable job as a clerk in the maharaja's palace.

That kind of job was secure. The pay wasn't very good, but nobody ever got dismissed, and people treated you with regard. My father fell easily into that way of life. He learned English and got his diplomas from the secondary school, and was soon much higher in the government than his father. He became one of the maharaja's secretaries. There were very many of those. They wore an impressive livery, and in the town they were treated like little gods. I believe my father wished me to continue in that way, to continue the climb he had begun. For my father it was as though he had rediscovered something of the security of the temple community from which my grandfather had had to flee.

But there was some little imp of rebellion in me. Perhaps I had heard my grandfather tell too often of his flight and his fear of the unknown, only looking inward during those terrible days and not able to see what was around him. My grandfather grew angrier as he grew older. He said then that in his temple community they had been very foolish. They had seen the disaster coming but had done nothing about it. He himself, he said, had left it to the last moment to run away; which was why, when he came to the big town, he had had to skulk about the temple courtyard like a half-starved animal. These were terrible words for him to use. His anger infected me. I began to have some idea that this life we were all living in the big town around the maharaja and his palace couldn't last, that this security was also false. When I thought like that I could panic, because I couldn't see what I could do to protect myself against that breakdown.

I suppose I was ripe for political action. India was full of politics. But the independence movement didn't exist in the maharaja's state. It was illegal. And though we knew of the great names and the great doings outside we saw them at a distance.

I was now at the university. The plan was that I should get a BA degree and then perhaps get a scholarship from the maharaja to do medicine or engineering. Then I was to marry the daughter of the principal of the maharaja's college. All of that was settled. I let it happen, but felt detached from it. I became idler and idler at the university. I didn't understand the BA course. I didn't understand The Mayor of Casterbridge. I couldn't understand the people or the story and didn't know what period the book was set in. Shakespeare was better, but I didn't know what to make of Shelley and Keats and Wordsworth. When I read those poets I wanted to say, "But this is just a pack of lies. No one feels like that." The professor made us copy down his notes. He dictated them, pages and pages, and what I mainly remember is that, because he was dictating notes and wanted them to be brief, and because he wanted us to copy down these notes exactly, he never spoke the name Wordsworth. He always said W, speaking just the initial, never Wordsworth. W did this, W wrote that...


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Copyright 2001 by V.S.Naipaul
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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

1

A Visit from Somerset Maugham

*

Willie Chandran asked his father one day, "Why is my middle name Somerset? The boys at school have just found out, and they are mocking me."

His father said without joy, "You were named after a great English writer. I am sure you have seen his books about the house."

"But I haven't read them. Did you admire him so much?"

"I am not sure. Listen, and make up your own mind."

And this was the story Willie Chandran's father began to tell. It took a long time. The story changed as Willie grew up. Things were added, and by the time Willie left India to go to England this was the story he had heard.

*

The writer (Willie Chandran's father said) came to India to get material for a novel about spirituality. This was in the 1930s. The principal of the maharaja's college brought him to me. I was doing penance for something I had done, and I was living as a mendicant in the outer courtyard of the big temple. It was a very public place, and that was why I had chosen it. My enemies among the maharaja's officials were hounding me, and I felt safer there in the temple courtyard, with the crowds coming and going, than in my office. I was in a state of nerves because of this persecution, and to calm myself I had also taken a vow of silence. This had won me a certain amount of local respect, even renown. People would come to look at me being silent and some would bring me gifts. The state authorities had to respect my vow, and my first thought when I saw the principal with the little old white fellow was that it was a plot to make me talk. This made me very obstinate. People knew that something was afoot andthey stood around to watch the encounter. I knew they were on my side. I didn't say anything. The principal and the writer did all the talking. They talked about me and they looked at me while they talked, and I sat and looked through them like someone deaf and blind, and the crowd looked at all three of us.

That was how it began. I said nothing to the great man. It's hard to credit now, but I don't believe I had heard about him when I first saw him. The English literature I knew about was Browning and Shelley and people like that, whom I had studied at the university, for the year or so I was there, before I foolishly gave up English education in response to the mahatma's call, and unfitted myself for life, while watching my friends and enemies growing in prosperity and regard. That, though, is something else. I will tell you about it some other time.

Now I want to go back to the writer. You must believe that I had said nothing to him at all. But then, perhaps eighteen months later, in the travel book the writer brought out there were two or three pages about me. There was a lot more about the temple and the crowds and the clothes they were wearing, and the gifts of coconut and flour and rice they had brought, and the afternoon light on the old stones of the courtyard. Everything the maharaja's headmaster had told him was there, and a few other things besides. Clearly the headmaster had tried to win the admiration of the writer by saying very good things about my various vows of denial. There were also a few lines, perhaps a whole paragraph, describing--in the way he had described the stones and the afternoon light--the serenity and smoothness of my skin.

That was how I became famous. Not in India, where there is a lot of jealousy, but abroad. And the jealousy turned to rage when the writer's famous novel came out during the war, and foreign critics began to see in me the spiritual source of The Razor's Edge.

My persecution stopped. The writer--to the general surprise, an anti-imperialist--had, in his first Indian book, the book of travel notes, written flatteringly of the maharaja and his state and his officials, including the principal of the college. So the attitude of everybody changed. They pretended to see me as the writer had seen me: the man of high caste, high in the maharaja's revenue service, from a line of people who had performed sacred rituals for the ruler, turning his back on a glittering career, and living as a mendicant on the alms of the poorest of the poor.

It became hard for me to step out of that role. One day the maharaja himself sent me his good wishes by one of the palace secretaries. This worried me a lot. I had been hoping that after a time there might be other religious excitements in the city, and I would be allowed to go away, and work out my own way of life. But when during an important religious festival the maharaja himself came barebacked in the hot afternoon sun as a kind of penitent and with his own hand made me offerings of coconuts and cloth which a liveried courtier--a scoundrel whom I knew only too well--had brought, I recognised that breaking out had become impossible, and I settled down to live the strange life that fate had bestowed on me.

I began to attract visitors from abroad. They were principally friends of the famous writer. They came from England to �nd what the writer had found. They came with letters from the writer. Sometimes they came with letters from the maharaja's high officials. Sometimes they came with letters from people who had previously visited me. Some of them were writers, and months or weeks after they had visited there were little articles about their visits in the London magazines. With these visitors I went over this new version of my life so often that I became quite at ease with it. Sometimes we talked about the people who had visited, and the people with me would say with satisfaction, "I know him. He's a very good friend." Or words like that. So that for five months, from November to March, the time of our winter or "cold weather," as the English people said, to distinguish the Indian season from the English season, I felt I had become a social figure, someone at the periphery of a little foreign web of acquaintances and gossip.

It sometimes happens that when you make a slip of the tongue you don't want to correct it. You try to pretend that what you said was what you meant. And then it often happens that you begin to see that there is some truth in your error. You begin to see, for instance, that to subtract from someone's good name can also be said to detract from that name. In some such way, contemplating the strange life that had been forced on me by that meeting with the great English writer, I began to see that it was a way of life that for some years I had been dreaming of: the wish to renounce, hide, run away from the mess I had made of my life.

I must go back. We come from a line of priests. We were attached to a certain temple. I do not know when the temple was built or which ruler built it or for how long we have been attached to it; we are not people with that kind of knowledge. We of the temple priesthood and our families made a community. At one time I suppose we would have been a very rich and prosperous community, served in various ways by the people whom we served. But when the Muslims conquered the land we all became poor. The people we served could no longer support us. Things became worse when the British came. There was law, but the population increased. There were far too many of us in the temple community. This was what my grandfather told me. All the complicated rules of the community held, but there was actually very little to eat. People became thin and weak and fell ill easily. What a fate for our priestly community! I didn't like hearing the stories my grandfather told of that time, in the 1890s.

My grandfather was skin and bones when he decided he had to leave the temple and the community. He thought he would go to the big town where the maharaja's palace was and where there was a famous temple. He made such preparations as he could, saving up little portions of rice and flour and oil, and putting aside one small coin and then another. He told no one anything. When the day came he got up very early, in the dark, and began to walk to where the railway station was. It was very many miles away. He walked for three days. He walked among people who were very poor. He was more wretched than most of them, but there were people who saw that he was a starving young priest and offered him alms and shelter. At last he came to the railway station. He told me that he was by this time so frightened and lost, so close to the end of his strength and courage, that he was noticing nothing of the world outside. The train came in the afternoon. He had a memory of crowd and noise, and then it was night. He had never travelled by train before, but all the time he was looking inward.

In the morning they came to the big town. He asked his way to the big temple and he stayed there, moving about the temple courtyard to avoid the sun. In the evening, after the temple prayers, there was a distribution of consecrated food. He was not left out of that. It was not a great deal, but it was more than he had been living on. He tried to behave as though he were a pilgrim. No one asked questions, and that was the way he lived for the first few days. But then he was noticed. He was questioned. He told his story. The temple officials didn't throw him out. It was one of these officials, a kindly man, who suggested to my grandfather that he could become a letter-writer. He provided the simple equipment, the pen and nibs and ink and paper, and my grandfather went and sat with the other letter-writers on the pavement outside the courts near the maharaja's palace.

Most of the letter-writers there wrote in English. They did petitions of various sorts for people, and helped with various government forms. My grandfather knew no English. He knew Hindi and the language of his region. There were many people in the town who had run away from the famine area and wanted to get news to their families. So there was work for my grandfather and no one was jealous of him. People were also attracted to him because of the priestly clothes he wore. He was able after a while to make a fair living. He gave up skulking about the temple courtyard in the evenings. He found a proper room, and he sent for his family. With his letter-writing work, and with his friendships at the temple, he got to know more and more people, and so in time he was able to get a respectable job as a clerk in the maharaja's palace.

That kind of job was secure. The pay wasn't very good, but nobody ever got dismissed, and people treated you with regard. My father fell easily into that way of life. He learned English and got his diplomas from the secondary school, and was soon much higher in the government than his father. He became one of the maharaja's secretaries. There were very many of those. They wore an impressive livery, and in the town they were treated like little gods. I believe my father wished me to continue in that way, to continue the climb he had begun. For my father it was as though he had rediscovered something of the security of the temple community from which my grandfather had had to flee.

But there was some little imp of rebellion in me. Perhaps I had heard my grandfather tell too often of his flight and his fear of the unknown, only looking inward during those terrible days and not able to see what was around him. My grandfather grew angrier as he grew older. He said then that in his temple community they had been very foolish. They had seen the disaster coming but had done nothing about it. He himself, he said, had left it to the last moment to run away; which was why, when he came to the big town, he had had to skulk about the temple courtyard like a half-starved animal. These were terrible words for him to use. His anger infected me. I began to have some idea that this life we were all living in the big town around the maharaja and his palace couldn't last, that this security was also false. When I thought like that I could panic, because I couldn't see what I could do to protect myself against that breakdown.

I suppose I was ripe for political action. India was full of politics. But the independence movement didn't exist in the maharaja's state. It was illegal. And though we knew of the great names and the great doings outside we saw them at a distance.

I was now at the university. The plan was that I should get a BA degree and then perhaps get a scholarship from the maharaja to do medicine or engineering. Then I was to marry the daughter of the principal of the maharaja's college. All of that was settled. I let it happen, but felt detached from it. I became idler and idler at the university. I didn't understand the BA course. I didn't understand The Mayor of Casterbridge. I couldn't understand the people or the story and didn't know what period the book was set in. Shakespeare was better, but I didn't know what to make of Shelley and Keats and Wordsworth. When I read those poets I wanted to say, "But this is just a pack of lies. No one feels like that." The professor made us copy down his notes. He dictated them, pages and pages, and what I mainly remember is that, because he was dictating notes and wanted them to be brief, and because he wanted us to copy down these notes exactly, he never spoke the name Wordsworth. He always said W, speaking just the initial, never Wordsworth. W did this, W wrote that...
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Introduction

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“ A masterpiece . . . and a potent distillation of the author’s work to date.” —The New York Times

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Half a Life, V. S. Naipaul’s first novel since the exultantly acclaimed A Way in the World.

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Foreword

1. The novel begins with Willie’s question to his father about why he was named after the English novelist W. Somerset Maugham. If a name is a crucial piece of a person’s identity, how useful is the information Willie receives? How does Maugham come across in his responses to Willie’s and his father’s letters?

2. How does Willie’s father become a holy man? What is comical, and what is reprehensible, in the choices he makes? Is he a person trapped in circumstances beyond his control, or might he have done things differently? What is the source of his narcissism? Considering that in Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, the holy man is believed by his Western admirers to be a person of true integrity, why does Naipaul portray this character as a fraud?

3. Naipaul has written about India’s caste system in several of his nonfiction books. How does he recreate the social world of a caste-based culture in this novel? Why does he choose to root the circumstances of a novel about identity–or the lack of it–in a character’s half-hearted effort to rebel against the caste system? Given the feelings he expresses for his wife and child on pages 32 and 33, is Willie’s father a racist at heart, despite his admiration for Gandhi?

4. Willie has a painful love for his mother and despises his father. Why do his mother and sister seem immune to the sense of shame that Willie’s father has passed along to his son? What are the effects, in Willie’s later life, of this internalized shame?

5. What do the stories that Willie writes while in school [pp. 38—45] communicate to the reader? Whichof them is the most powerful? Does Willie’s creativity spring solely from his hatred for his father? In his “Prologue to an Autobiography,” Naipaul wrote, “To become a writer, that noble thing, I had thought it necessary to leave [home]. Actually to write, it was necessary to go back. It was the beginning of self-knowledge.” How does this statement relate to Willie’s brief writing career?

6. What is the reason for Willie’s lack of knowledge about the world? How does he adapt to life in London? What point is Naipaul making about the insular world from which Willie comes?

7. How does it change his outlook when Willie realizes that a culture’s rules are largely “make-believe,” and that “he was free to present himself as he wished. He could, as it were, write his own revolution” [p. 57]? What difference does this new sense of freedom make for his life in the immigrant community in London? How does he attempt to remake himself? How successful is he in shedding his past?

8. Is it significant that Willie’s first book is, “in substance . . . like the story Willie had heard over many years from his father” [p. 96]? How is Willie like his father, and in what ways does his life, as it develops throughout the novel, mirror his father’s life?

9. What is the effect on Willie of his father’s letter telling him of Sarojini’s “international marriage” [pp. 105—06]? What do Sarojini’s letters, and the way she conducts her own life, say about her? Why is she so different from her brother?

10. In the aftermath of his book’s publication, Willie believes, “All that he had now was an idea–and it was like a belief in magic–that one day something would happen, an illumination would come to him, and he would be taken by a series of events to the place he should go. What he had to do was to hold himself in readiness, to recognise the moment” [p. 114]. What sort of revelation is this? Is Willie’s passivity simply the deepest expression of his character, or can it be attributed to his status as an exile who has willingly cut himself off from his past?

11. Is Ana’s letter the sign Willie has been waiting for? Is Ana’s plantation “the place he should go” [p. 114]? Why does Ana choose Willie? Why does he attempt to keep the truth of his background from her? Why, in the end, does he decide to leave her? Is he unable to face the political changes, as well as the violence, that may come to Ana’s part of the world?

12. In Half a Life, Willie moves from India to an unnamed country in East Africa; both are areas about which Naipaul has written at length. If you have read Naipaul’s nonfiction travel writing, or any his novels set in Africa, what is familiar or unfamiliar about his treatment of India and Africa in this novel? How does Willie’s life in Africa differ from his family’s life in India? Why is race such a preoccupation in the plantation society in which Willie moves?

13. Willie’s friend Percy Cato comes from a similar colonial background and is also of mixed blood, as is the tile worker Willie observes at work in the Portuguese seafood restaurant. How does Willie compare with Percy? Why is Willie so moved at the sight of the persecuted tile worker that he thinks to himself, “Who will rescue that man? Who will avenge him?” [p. 155]

14. What is notable about Naipaul’s writing style in Half a Life? How does the novel’s structure reflect Naipaul’s themes of time, memory, and the retelling of experience? Why does the novel end where it does?

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Reading Group Guide

1. The novel begins with Willie’s question to his father about why he was named after the English novelist W. Somerset Maugham. If a name is a crucial piece of a person’s identity, how useful is the information Willie receives? How does Maugham come across in his responses to Willie’s and his father’s letters?

2. How does Willie’s father become a holy man? What is comical, and what is reprehensible, in the choices he makes? Is he a person trapped in circumstances beyond his control, or might he have done things differently? What is the source of his narcissism? Considering that in Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, the holy man is believed by his Western admirers to be a person of true integrity, why does Naipaul portray this character as a fraud?

3. Naipaul has written about India’s caste system in several of his nonfiction books. How does he recreate the social world of a caste-based culture in this novel? Why does he choose to root the circumstances of a novel about identity–or the lack of it–in a character’s half-hearted effort to rebel against the caste system? Given the feelings he expresses for his wife and child on pages 32 and 33, is Willie’s father a racist at heart, despite his admiration for Gandhi?

4. Willie has a painful love for his mother and despises his father. Why do his mother and sister seem immune to the sense of shame that Willie’s father has passed along to his son? What are the effects, in Willie’s later life, of this internalized shame?

5. What do the stories that Willie writes while in school [pp. 38—45] communicate to the reader? Whichof them is the most powerful? Does Willie’s creativity spring solely from his hatred for his father? In his “Prologue to an Autobiography, ” Naipaul wrote, “To become a writer, that noble thing, I had thought it necessary to leave [home]. Actually to write, it was necessary to go back. It was the beginning of self-knowledge.” How does this statement relate to Willie’s brief writing career?

6. What is the reason for Willie’s lack of knowledge about the world? How does he adapt to life in London? What point is Naipaul making about the insular world from which Willie comes?

7. How does it change his outlook when Willie realizes that a culture’s rules are largely “make-believe, ” and that “he was free to present himself as he wished. He could, as it were, write his own revolution” [p. 57]? What difference does this new sense of freedom make for his life in the immigrant community in London? How does he attempt to remake himself? How successful is he in shedding his past?

8. Is it significant that Willie’s first book is, “in substance . . . like the story Willie had heard over many years from his father” [p. 96]? How is Willie like his father, and in what ways does his life, as it develops throughout the novel, mirror his father’s life?

9. What is the effect on Willie of his father’s letter telling him of Sarojini’s “international marriage” [pp. 105—06]? What do Sarojini’s letters, and the way she conducts her own life, say about her? Why is she so different from her brother?

10. In the aftermath of his book’s publication, Willie believes, “All that he had now was an idea–and it was like a belief in magic–that one day something would happen, an illumination would come to him, and he would be taken by a series of events to the place he should go. What he had to do was to hold himself in readiness, to recognise the moment” [p. 114]. What sort of revelation is this? Is Willie’s passivity simply the deepest expression of his character, or can it be attributed to his status as an exile who has willingly cut himself off from his past?

11. Is Ana’s letter the sign Willie has been waiting for? Is Ana’s plantation “the place he should go” [p. 114]? Why does Ana choose Willie? Why does he attempt to keep the truth of his background from her? Why, in the end, does he decide to leave her? Is he unable to face the political changes, as well as the violence, that may come to Ana’s part of the world?

12. In Half a Life, Willie moves from India to an unnamed country in East Africa; both are areas about which Naipaul has written at length. If you have read Naipaul’s nonfiction travel writing, or any his novels set in Africa, what is familiar or unfamiliar about his treatment of India and Africa in this novel? How does Willie’s life in Africa differ from his family’s life in India? Why is race such a preoccupation in the plantation society in which Willie moves?

13. Willie’s friend Percy Cato comes from a similar colonial background and is also of mixed blood, as is the tile worker Willie observes at work in the Portuguese seafood restaurant. How does Willie compare with Percy? Why is Willie so moved at the sight of the persecuted tile worker that he thinks to himself, “Who will rescue that man? Who will avenge him?” [p. 155]

14. What is notable about Naipaul’s writing style in Half a Life? How does the novel’s structure reflect Naipaul’s themes of time, memory, and the retelling of experience? Why does the novel end where it does?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Unimpressive...

    Read for my face to face book club. I found the story unengaging and the main character dislikable. My fellow clubbers concurred.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Welcome to the world of religion, caste system, and social structure

    Book gives you some insight on the government rulers of India/ maharajas, religion and the caste system of india as well as the social structure abroad. It is dramatic and thrilling it touches on the topics of interaacial relationships as well as race riots. The main protagonist of the story Willie Chandron finds some peace and comfort in his writing attempting to escape the life he inherited from birth and the life he somehow stumbled into.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Half a Life Review By Megan Hein

    Half a Life is a story about a man named Willie Chandran, who is looking for himself among the chaos in his life. The story begins with background information on his family and as you read you see small parts of the beginning throughout the book. His grandfather ran away, Willie chooses to do the same when life begins to get difficult.
    Willie attends a small university and is intrigued by a different, quiet young girl who does not say much in class. Willie then makes the mistake in pursuing this girl, and in turn she becomes very dependent as well as needy. Willie was born of high stature and stoops to a new low when marrying this woman.
    Willie then decides to run away from the life he has come to hate. He decides to go and study in London where his life seems to be all the more complicated. He meets a woman who is in love with his writing as well as in love with him. She gives him the opportunity to run away once again, Willie spends 18 years in a small colony in Africa. He is trying to define himself as well as his new lifestyle, but we watch him slowly whither away.
    Overall this novel was very interesting, the characters were very memorable with all the unique characteristics. This book did not contain much action, but the story line kept the reader interested. The book started out slowly and began to pick up speed as Willie began to move from place to place. This book is a great read for anyone looking for a deep reflection on their lives. Willie gives you a new prospective on life as well as allowing you to relate to what he has to say.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2003

    Yes, emotional side is lacking

    I got excited at first but it left me with kind of cold feeling of untold emotions that one usually goes through. Towards the end he basically chronicles what happened, though literally outstanding, he barely touches upon the volcanic emotional build up( may be that's what I wanted). The only out let of that frustration of Willie's life is channeled through sex but that barely touches reality. If the purpose of the book was to show the tension of being half/half and finding identity, and how Willie got lost in the process, half of the book is enough upto the London journey after that he could have summed up by saying "Willie yielded to Ana's 'secure love' and disappeared in oblivion trying to forget who he was; what he wanted was to get far away from himself."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2002

    Half A Life -- Half A Book

    For the first 130 pages I thought that I was so lucky to stumble upon this book.The main character, Willie, at that point, decided to give up the struggle for control of his life and become a dependent. I dragged myself through the subsequent 100 pages. "Half A Life" is truly half a book.

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  • Anonymous

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2002

    I Waited Too Long

    I have spent half a life avoiding the writings of V.S. Naipul. This summer I tackled Half a Life expecting something difficult or obscure. Not at all. The author moves the reader along on an odyssey encompassing three continents, opening windows which could only be opened by an outsider, but never by a mere tourist. A great read which enlightened me without producing any hint of the didactic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2001

    V.S. Naipul Scores Big With Fans and Critics

    V.S. Naipul, the English speaking author of many books, sums up a life of unparalled creativity and innovation with his autobiographical journey, Half a Life. Mr. Naipul takes us from his homeland of Trinidad to Oxford University and then back again, leaving the reader full of wonder, joy, and a sense of discovery. Your mind simply swirls when the young Naipul gets into one wacky adventure after another on the mean streets of London. The greatest thing of all is that the man lived to tell his tale. For that, his fans and critics alike are rewarded with this rich, mind-exploding masterpiece. Read Half a Life, then see if you're not also struck with wonder and amazement.

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    Posted October 5, 2010

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    Posted March 1, 2011

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    Posted December 27, 2010

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    Posted February 11, 2011

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