The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 3 February 2003

The Enigma of Arrival

by V. S. Naipaul

Naipaul begins his life in England as an outsider. By the end of this book, he seems to remain outside the place he has inhabited for twenty years, but he has taken the reader on a remarkable journey of connection and intimacy with a place. The author comes to England at the age of 18, to undertake his education at Oxford. So young, and aspiring to be an author, Naipaul relates his first impressions flying from Trinidad to America, taking a ship to England, and his first rooms in London. He opens the book, though, with his arrival in a small house on the grounds of a large manor house in rural Wiltshire, England, well started on his writing career. Hypnotically, almost poetically, he describes his long walks on the hills and valleys of the area, to a favorite look-out over the plains to Stonehenge. Here are the places he sees and certain characters who rise large in his vision. Here is his experience as the colonial subject in the mother country, and here is his observation of the change and decay that come with time. The book is hard to describe. It reads like a memoir but is described as a novel. It is dense, and is heavy with poetic repetitions. This book was specifically cited as a masterpiece in the announcement of Naipaul's Nobel Prize. It is certainly compelling and complex. It is acutely observed and shot through with the sense of time and place. There is a magic and a mystery within what is an essentially simple story of one's passing existence. Very good.

(Naipaul was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize for literature.)

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