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Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents Paperback – January 8, 2001
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After being squired around Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda by the author, Naipaul returned to London. Their correspondence continued, and the relationship--in which Theroux was very much the junior partner and acolyte--deepened. During a holiday visit to London the next year, he realized that their rapport "was as strong as love. He was my friend, he had shown me what was good in my writing, he had drawn a line through anything that was false." And indeed, over the next three decades the two exchanged a steady stream of letters, visits, phone calls, and authorial confidences. Yet this most productive of literary friendships came to an abrupt end in 1996, when Naipaul--now knighted and recently remarried--burned a number of bridges and tossed his relationship with Theroux into the conflagration.
All of which brings us to Sir Vidia's Shadow, a peculiar mixture of autobiography, Boswellian chronicle, and poison-pen letter. In many ways, it's a fascinating and devilishly skilled performance. For starters, Theroux spent more time in his subject's company than Boswell ever spent in Johnson's, which gives his portrait a widescreen verisimilitude. He documents Naipaul's loony fastidiousness, his passion for language, "the laughter in his lungs like a loud kind of hydraulics," and the very sound of his typewriter (which, just for the record, goes chick-chick-chick). Theroux also gives a superb sense of how such literary apprenticeships can function to the mutual benefit of master and disciple--and how they can erode. By 1975, after all, Theroux had become the bestselling author of The Great Railway Bazaar, while Naipaul remained an under-remunerated critics' darling. Out of habit, Theroux stayed in the older man's shadow. Still, as the book progresses, it becomes harder and harder to tell precisely who's got the anxiety and who's got the influence.
It also becomes harder and harder to ignore Theroux's late-breaking animus toward his subject. His goal--stated not only in the book but in various tailgunning replies to his critics--was to write an accurate account of a long, rich friendship. "This narrative is not something that would be improved by the masks of fiction," he declares. "It needs only to be put in order. I am free of the constraint of alteration and fictionalizing." Yet every book has a tendency to break free of the author's intentions, and Sir Vidia's Shadow is no exception. For each reverent (and convincing) passage about his subject, there's another in which Theroux seems to be administering some deeply ambivalent payback. He contrasts Naipaul's sexless misogyny with his own erotic enthusiasm, and his own generosity with his hero's miserly behavior (although Naipaul's penny-pinching and check-dodging can make him strangely endearing--the Jack Benny of contemporary letters). At times Theroux seems determined to explore all seven types of ambiguity, which makes for both deliberate and not-so-deliberate hilarity. He also sounds uncannily like a spurned lover. And perhaps that residue of expired passion accounts for both the brilliance of Sir Vidia's Shadow and its disturbing, sometimes queasy pathos. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I've read many other books by Theroux and Naipaul, some good, others less than that. I like the nonfiction of both better than their fiction. But never have I read anything by either of them as compelling as this. I tore through SIR VIDIA'S SHADOW in two sittings. I don't know whether it's due more to Naipaul's charm or the skill of SIR VIDIA'S author, Theroux.
They begin in Uganda, sparring, as writers do, over other writers. Theroux mentions his admiration for Nabokov, whom Naipaul rejects: "Forget Nabokov. Read Death in Venice. Pay close attention to the accumulation of thought." This dismissal was surprising because as the persona of Vidia the Great Writer was developed through the book I was reminded constantly of Nabokov, particularly Nabokov's volume of criticism called STRONG OPINIONS. And Nabokov's scorn of Mann was second only to his scorn of Freud. But Naipaul and Nabokov have in common their legendary erudition, their strong opinions expressed elegantly, seldom dipping into vulgarity, their rootless lives lived mostly far from their natal homes, their wary eyes kept peeled for the brutes of the world--Naipaul sees at once that Uganda is on theverge of anarchy and goes around asking the people what they will do when the "crunch" comes.Read more ›
Some of the editorial reviews would give you the impression that the reader will be left totally clueless as to why the friendship ended. Not so. The reason it ended can be summed up in two words: new wife. Naipaul's wife of thirty or so years, with whom Theroux was friends and with whom he once fantasized having an affair, died of a lingering illness, and Naipaul, to everyone's astonishment, remarried within two months, to a woman that no one in Naipaul's inner circle even knew existed. The new wife apparently took an instant dislike to Theroux and let him know it. Soon all communication stopped. Theroux later runs into Naipaul on the street; Naipaul tells him to "take it on the chin and move on." Naipaul also discarded his long term mistress, whom Theroux quotes in an afterward as affirming that every word in the book is true. Naipaul appears to have been cleaning house and to be starting over in every respect.
Theroux portrays Naipaul as, in my view at least, a thoroughly repugnant person. Arrogant, racist, ill-mannered to the point of rudeness at times, Naipaul has an incredible sense of entitlement. He is in effect a moocher, letting Theroux pick up the lunch tab at an expensive restaurant at a time when Theroux had little money.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have read this book five or six times. It is a great story about Paul Theroux' growth as a writer and the pecularities of V. S. Naipaul. Read morePublished 3 months ago by N. Charest
Great critical review especially if you like Paul Theroux and V.S. Naipaul. I loaned my previous copy to a friend(?) and never received it back. I had to have another copy.Published 7 months ago by Donald D. Ross
The first point to note is that the veracity of this account has been seriously questioned. In French's authorized bio of Naipaul, what Theroux says took place at a party is... Read morePublished 13 months ago by reading man
mon mon mon! dis one dey mos' unmitigatedly cantankerous n waspish books ever be da writtens bout any writer any century, mon. mista paul, he roofless! Read morePublished 15 months ago by A radar
Brilliant insight in to a 30 year friendship and the reasons why it soured. Sensitively written, intensely personal and delicately scathing (yes its possible) of Naipaul.Published 16 months ago by Michael Azariadis
What a stroke of luck for an aspiring writer struggling in backwater Uganda: to have a future Nobel laureate dumped in your lap as mentor and guide into the London literary world. Read morePublished on October 31, 2013 by Rick Skwiot
Sir Vidia is masterfully written. Couldn't put it down. Theroux understands the nuances of producing an excellent, meaningful memoir in a low key subtle tone, without sounding... Read morePublished on November 29, 2011 by Lisa H.
After reading Patrick French's excellent biography of V.S. Naipaul, "The World is What it Is", I decided to read Theroux's book on Naipaul, which French references. Read morePublished on March 3, 2010 by Mac
I love this book because I'm very fond of the writings of both Naipaul and Theroux. Nothing in it surprises me. Read morePublished on January 7, 2010 by LMP