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Comment: The Enigma of Arrival (Vintage) Paperback by V.S. Naipaul (Author) First Vintage Books Edition, May 1988(stated)
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The Enigma of Arrival (Vintage) Paperback – April 12, 1988

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 12, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394757602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394757605
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.1 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Discursive and ruminative, more like an extended essay than a novel, the intricately structured chapters in this highly autobiographical book reveal "the writer defined by his . . . ways of seeing." Naipaul, in his own person, narrates a series of events, beginning during a period of soul-healing in Wiltshire, circling back to the day of his departure from Trinidad in 1950 when he was 18, describing his time in London before he went up to Oxford, moving back to Trinidad after his sister's death: these journeys are a metaphor for his life. With beautiful use of detail recaptured from an extraordinary memory, with exquisitely nuanced observations of the natural world and his own interior landscape, he shows how experience is transmogrified after much incertitude and paininto literature. This is a melancholy book, the testament of a man who has stoically willed himself to endure disappointment, alienation, change and grief. Naipaul lays bare the loneliness, vulnerability and anxieties of his life, the sensibility that is both an asset for the writer and a burden for the man. He demonstrates this brilliantly by describing other peoplemainly his neighbors in a village near Stonehenge. Using these characters as catalysts, Naipaul peels back protective layers of memory, sparing himself nothing, revealing the mistakes and inadequacies of his life. The drama resides in small incidents: the death of a cottager, the firing of an estate's gardener; with each account, the narrative is spun more tightly into a seamless tapestry, a powerful document by a master of his craft. Readers Subscription Book Club main selection.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Naipaul's finest work so far." —Chicago Tribune

"An elegant memoir, a subtly incisive self-reckoning." —The Washington Post Book World

"Far and away the most curious novel I've read in a long time, and maybe the most hypnotic book I've ever read." —St. Petersburg Times

"The conclusion is both heart-breaking and bracing: the only antidote to destruction—of dreams, of reality—is remembering. As eloquently as anyone now writing, Naipaul remembers." —Time

"V.S. Naipaul is a man who can inspire readers to follow him through the Slough of Despond and beyond.... Like a computer game [this book] leads the reader on by a series of clues, nearer and nearer to an understanding of the man and the writer. Few memoirs can claim as much." —Newsday

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Customer Reviews

The book is painfully slow, and difficult to read.
I was really astonished by the scope of the writer's attention, and his skill at simply noticing and describing ordinary things in a really extraordinary way.
There is no central plot or easily discernible import.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Buckeye on August 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'll admit that I was really puzzled by this book when I started reading it. Very little happens. There is not much of a plot, at least as we usually think of it. I found myself wondering things like "what is he writing about" and "where is he going with all this detailed description?" The title aside, the book itself seemed like an enigma.
But after a while I began to get almost hypnotized by the narrative. And two things in particular really captured my attention. First, the very precise and painstaking psychological (and even behavioral) analysis of the characters in the book. To a great extent it reminded me of the level of detail that Dostoyevsky would go to in his psychological examinations of his characters. Second, the almost zen-like mindfulness of his description of setting. I was really astonished by the scope of the writer's attention, and his skill at simply noticing and describing ordinary things in a really extraordinary way.
So - no "action", not much plot, excruciatingly dull if you're looking for a thrill-a-minute page turner. However, if you can let yourself sort of mimic the mindset of the author and just go with it a bit, I think you'll find this to be a pretty amazing book.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Joe Schwartz on June 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
This gorgeous book, a memoir and novel intermingled, is one of the strangest and most hypmotic I have ever read. V.S. Naipaul is known, unfairly, almost exclusively as a political and travel writer; few critics seem to have noted the extraordinary beauty and intelligence of his work or its profoundly personal, philosophical underpinnings. Here Naipaul, with no exotic backdrop or apalling human decline to reflect upon, comes out of the dark shadows and reveals himself as a kind of ascetic Proust. In spare, deeply controlled prose, he writes of his walks through the English countryside where he lives, and what he sees. While Naipaul is falling in love, late in life, with his adopted home, it is becoming disfigured by time and change, and soon what he loved is lost. His attempts to cope with that change, to avoid grief, to see coldly and without sentiment, shape the book. The overall effect is, in fact, much like that of Proust, but maybe wiser and certainly less indulgent. But it demands patience and reflection (Naipaul's thick-headed protege Paul Theroux didn't get it), so be warned.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Without question this is a strange book. It has no real plot, the arrangement of its sections is odd and their relationship to each other somewhat mysterious, and the attention to detail can be maddening. When I first attempted to read this book some years ago, I had to stop part of the way through, as I couldn't understand what was going on or why Naipaul had written this.
Fortunately I tried again not long afterwards; Naipaul is one of my favorite writers and I figured anything he wrote was worth at least a second try. The second time round I read much more slowly than the first time, trying to savor the precision of the prose and enter into the narrative more fully. The book's effect on me was dramatically different as a result. I became absorbed in the reading ("hypnotic" is how one review I read aptly described the prose), and I began to see the book's underlying themes: the existentialist need to make one's own place in the world in the face of decay and death, the power of art to transform experience and fight oblivion, how the writer sees and knows the world. Naipaul develops these themes slowly and subtly; they are woven deeply into the narrative, and can be easy to miss for that reason. But once you begin to see them, reading this beautiful book can be a profound and moving experience.
And so, despite the strangeness and the hard, slow reading this book requires, I would tell people that it is so worth the effort of careful study. Naipaul has written no ordinary novel here, but something rare and beautiful. A truly great book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J C E Hitchcock on January 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
The title of "The Enigma of Arrival" is borrowed from a mysterious, haunting picture by Giorgio de Chirico, and the novel is as enigmatic as the painting from which it takes its name. It is not a conventional novel; in many ways its tone is closer to that of an autobiography than to that of a work of fiction. The narrator, like Naipaul himself, is a Trinidadian of Indian ancestry who arrived in Britain in the early fifties to study English at Oxford University and with an ambition to become a writer. The greater part of the work is taken up with a description of three years spent by the narrator living in a cottage in a small village in Wiltshire, probably during the seventies.

There is no plot in the normal sense of the word, and little in the way of characterisation, although Naipaul does give sketches of some of the individuals he came to know during his time in the village. The most impressive aspect of the book is Naipaul's descriptions of his country walks, giving detailed accounts of the downland, farmland and water-meadows of Wiltshire in beautifully descriptive prose. Being a keen country walker myself, I marvelled at the author's powers not only of description but also of observation, as he brings the English countryside in all its moods to life with a vividness to rival such masters of descriptive writing as Thomas Hardy and H.E. Bates. There is also a strong sense of England's historic past. Unlike some of those who have reviewed the book, I did not find these accounts boring. The book is slow moving, certainly, but that is not, in this case, a fault; it is a book to be read slowly, to linger over.

The overall tone of the book is one of melancholy and disenchantment. Naipaul's aim in his descriptions of the countryside is not simply to celebrate its beauty.
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