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Half a Life

Naipaul, V. S.

Published by Alfred A. Knopf Incorporated, New York, NY, U.S.A., 2001
ISBN 10: 0375407375 / ISBN 13: 9780375407376
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Bibliographic Details


Title: Half a Life

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Incorporated, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 2001

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition: Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition.

Description:

FINE/FINE unread copy protected by Archival Brodart Cover. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 000590

About this title:

Book ratings provided by GoodReads:
3.22 avg rating
(2,478 ratings)

Synopsis: 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.

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.? A masterpiece of economy and emotional nuance, Half a Life is an indelible feat of the imagination.

Review: Half a Life finds the veteran Booker Prize-winning novelist VS Naipaul on familiar territory, blending autobiography and fiction in an exploration of the "half lives" of individuals brought up in the English colonies and educated in the metropolitan centre.

Naipaul's protagonist is Willie Somerset Chandran, named after Somerset Maugham's encounter with Willie's father in the 1930s, whilst travelling "to get material for a novel about spirituality". Willie travels to England for his education, where he becomes "part of the special, passing bohemian-immigrant life of London of the late 1950s". Willie soon realises that his colonial background allows him to write short stories for well-meaning white liberals. Willie soon begins "to understand that he was free to present himself as he wished" and that he could "re-make himself and his past" through his writing. The effect is suffocating rather than liberating, and he marries a vaguely sketched "girl or young woman from an African country" who has read his one published book. Willie begins another "half life" in colonial Mozambique, where he soon tires of the domestic and sexual tedium of plantation life, and flees to Germany, mournfully reflecting that "I have been hiding for too long".

This is classic Naipaul, with its effortless dissection of the damaging personal consequences of post-war decolonisation, but its virtue seems it primary vice, as the novel feels like a conflation of several earlier Naipaul books, including The Mimic Men and the brilliant A Bend in the River. Consequently, some readers may well find that Half a Life reads more like half a novel. --Jerry Brotton

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