One of the finest living writers in the English
language, V. S. Naipaul gives us a tale as wholly
un-expected as it is affecting, his first novel
since the exultantly acclaimed A Way in the
World, published seven years ago.
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.”
A masterpiece of economy and emotional nuance,
Half a Life is an indelible feat of the
"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
"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
--Kirkus Reviews (starred
"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