Half a Life

Half a Life

by V. S. Naipaul
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Half a Life by V. S. Naipaul

One of the finest living writers in the English language, V. S. Naipaul gives us a tale as wholly unexpected as it is affecting, his first novel since the exultantly acclaimed A Way in the World, published seven years ago.

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.

In a luminous narrative that takes us across three continents, Naipaul explores his great theme of inheritance with an intimacy and directness unsurpassed in his extraordinary body of work. And even as he lays bare the bitter comical ironies of assumed identities, he gives us a poignant spectacle of the enervation peculiar to a borrowed life. In one man's determined refusal of what he has been given to be, Naipaul reveals the way of all our experience. As Willie comes to see, "Everything goes on a bias. The world should stop, but it goes on." Amasterpiece of economy and emotional nuance, Half a Life is an indelible feat of the imagination.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780330522854
Publisher: Picador USA
Publication date: 04/28/2011
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at Oxford he began to write, and since then he has followed no other profession. He is the author of more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction and the recipient of numerous honors, including the Nobel Prize in 2001, the Booker Prize in 1971, and a knighthood for services to literature in 1990. He lives in Wiltshire, England.


Wiltshire, England

Date of Birth:

August 17, 1932

Place of Birth:

Chaguanas, Trinidad


Queen's Royal College, Trinidad, 1943-48; B.A., University College, Oxford, 1953

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Half a Life 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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pjpick More than 1 year ago
Read for my face to face book club. I found the story unengaging and the main character dislikable. My fellow clubbers concurred.
mystiqueAS More than 1 year ago
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.
MeganH09 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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."
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.