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The World Is What It Is [Kindle Edition]

Patrick French
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $11.84
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

The first major biography of V.S. Naipaul, the controversial and enigmatic Nobel laureate: a stunning writer whose only stated ambition was greatness, in pursuit of which goal nothing else was sacred.

Beginning in rich detail in Trinidad, where Naipaul was born into an Indian family, Patrick French skillfully examines Naipaul’s life within a displaced community and his fierce ambition at school. He describes how, on scholarship at Oxford, homesickness and depression struck with great force; the ways in which Naipaul’s first wife helped him to cope and their otherwise fraught marriage; and Naipaul’s struggles throughout subsequent uncertainties in England, including his twenty-five-year-long affair.

Naipaul’s extraordinary gift—producing, uniquely, masterpieces of both fiction and nonfiction—is most of all born of a forceful, visionary impulse, whose roots French traces with a sympathetic brilliance and devastating insight.


From the Trade Paperback edition.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. V.S. Naipaul's biographer aims not to sit in judgment of the Nobel laureate, but to expose the subject with ruthless clarity to the calm eye of the reader. In this he succeeds admirably. Descendant of poor Brahmins, born in 1932 in Trinidad and educated in Oxford, Naipaul is haunted by matters of race, colonialism and sex. He is, says award-winning author French (Younghusband), both the racist (against those darker than he) and the victim of racial prejudice, tendencies that come through in his novels and in his treatment of friends and lovers. Haunting this biography are Naipaul's women. His wife, Pat, supported him, overlooked his affairs and his visits with prostitutes, and subordinated herself to his genius; Naipaul gave equally little to Margaret, his mistress. Naipaul and his books may be the subject of this work, but it is these and the other women whom he depended on and took for granted—from his editor to his mother—whose stories will keep that calm eye of the reader glued to the pages of this disturbing biography. 16 pages of photos. (Nov. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers were mostly astounded that such a good writer as V. S. Naipaul could be such a horrible person. Though he has always been known as prickly, critics seemed to compete for new adjectives to describe the man who emerges in this book. Michael Dirda's list: "whiney, narcissistic, insulting, needy, callous, impolite, cruel, vengeful, indecisive, miserly, exploitative, snobbish, sadistic, self-pitying and ungrateful." Patrick French, by contrast, earned quite positive labels for his well-written, warts-and-all biography. Yet critics agreed that Naipaul, despite the portrait of him that emerges here, has one remaining virtue. As the New York Times's Dwight Garner put it, Naipaul "was brave to allow this complicated parsing of his own myth into the world."
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

Product Details

  • File Size: 3133 KB
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 4, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0017SYNB6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #744,439 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The charm, wit and enigma of V.S.Naipaul November 19, 2008
Format:Hardcover
The much anticipated and eagerly awaited biography of the Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul by Mr. Patrick French is now in print. It is fascinating, gripping, deeply shocking, humorous, and hugely entertaining as well.

Readers who shook their heads in disbelief when they read Mr. Paul Theroux's "Sir Vidia's Shadow" can now read this book and shake their head some more in disbelief at some of the cruel and unpleasant incidents described here in raw and unvarnished detail. Given an opportunity to comment and suggest changes to the manuscript, Mr. Naipaul, to his credit, did not suggest any changes and allowed the book to be published, wrinkles, blisters, cuts, gashes, bruises and scabs intact, which is precisely the reason that this book is so gripping and shocking to read.

The details of Mr. Naipaul's life, often, are not very pleasant to read. In fact, I cringed when I read some of the passages here. Even though I had read about several of the unflattering incidents in various articles, books, and also on the Internet, I was quite shocked, nevertheless, when I read those passages here. This biography confirms that, yes, Mr. Naipaul is a great and fascinating writer, but he is also a flawed man.

Mr. Naipaul comes across as a funny, witty man, a racist, misogynist, a married man with a young mistress whom he beat up many times, a man who patronized prostitutes, and also a writer who experienced racism from other writers such as Evelyn Waugh. If you have read any of his novels and non-fiction, while reading this biography you will vividly recall some of the brilliant passages from those books, especially "A Bend in the River", "The Enigma of Arrival", and "A House for Mr. Biswas". I did.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Author Patrick French has created a tour de force portrait of a great writer whose worldly success and emotional vulnerabilities eventually combined to push him off the deep end as a human being. I read this book for a chance to revisit the fine work that I remember admiring so much when I started to read Naipaul in college in the late 1970s (at the suggestion of a friend and fellow Duke student from Mexico City). A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, The Return of Eva Peron--I still have all the dusty paperbacks, and eagerly pulled them open to compare the text with what was in the biography. It was extremely, even intensely interesting to see French reveal the nuts & bolts of Naipaul's writing techniques and find out how these perfectly crafted works were created. So that's where that line about the Argentinean death squads driving Ford Falcons came from! For that alone, French's book is one of the best portrayals of the writing process I have read.

I also remember the tone of pungent cruelty right under the surface of Naipaul's books. I remember tasting the same kind of barbed emotional aggression in Paul Theroux's books and the style went on to become very fashionable at the time. Now I understand how the many "follower" authors mimicked the leader. At the time, in the 1970s, many reviewers and established intellectuals welcomed the abrasiveness as authentic. I did not like the cruelty for it's own sake, and never read Theroux's books for that reason. Nevertheless, Naipaul was irresistible in spite of his meanness--he was just so damn smart you had to find out what he had seen and how he would write about it.

Now about Naipaul's honesty--it's a twisted variety. He's honest in everything that is angry, cynical or critical.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first rate biography November 14, 2008
Format:Hardcover
I take several objections to the previous reviwer's criticism: it shows a serious lack of understanding and feeling.

Patrick French's biography is essential in understanding Naipaul, the man, behind Naipaul, the writer, who is so famously divisive and often caricatured. Unlike Paul Theroux's "Sir Vidia's Shadow" which is a bit fictionalized and sometimes factually wrong, French draws extensively on interviews and correspondences to narrate a realistic account of Naipaul's life until the late 1990s (French doesn't chronicle the Nobel Naipaul won in 2001).

Naipaul's life is full of violent relationships with people, places, and history. French doesn't let this material degenerate into sensationalism or melodrama. Remarkably, French also doesn't budge in to Naipaul's forceful personality and holds him responsible for his behavior towards
several people. It is quite fascinating to read French's account of some event which is at odds with Naipaul's own skewed recollection of the same event.

Unlike the other reviewer noted, French does connect the dots between Naipaul's life and work. For ex, Naipaul's affair with Margaret enabled him to write the sex scenes in "A Bend in the River," not to mention the rejuvenating effect it had on Naipaul's life and work.

Overall, this book is far from a dissappointment. I enjoyed reading it as much as Naipaul's books. I can think of no better compliment.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Emotional bully; outstanding writer January 2, 2009
Format:Hardcover
When V.S. Naipaul was given a copy of the completed manuscript of this biography he returned it to the author without comments or corrections; that surprising fact appears on page xi of this book; and by the time one reaches page 490, two hypothesis about why he would not change, or at least comment upon, a book that draws him in such repulsive terms remain standing: One, he never looked at the manuscript for fear of a disagreeable and emotional entanglement with it (a habit of avoidance he had carefully honed throughout his life) or, Two, his corrections would have been so massive that they would have forced an entire rewriting or rethinking of his biography, something that neither he, nor the author, would have found tolerable since truth would per force suffer deeply in any effort to redraw Naipaul as an acceptable human being. So he is here, warts and all, for all to see and sneer at.

Patrick French was given unlimited access to the entire and heretofore highly restricted Naipaul archives at the University of Tulsa; this included "his notebooks, correspondence, hand written manuscripts, financial papers, recordings, photographs, press cuttings and journals,(and those of his first wife Pat, which he had never read.)" The materials were massive and thus the book is hefty; unfortunately it is also dull. Quite possibly the sheer quantity of material led to the huge stretches of uninteresting prose which dominate the narrative.

The author remains aloof and non-judgmental about the tortures that Mr. Naipaul's narcissism inflicts on his many victims, thus depriving the story of the emotional vibrancy and color it deserves. Although the author does not condone Mr.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wrong Way In The World
This biography is largely a negative portrait that nonetheless has been "authorized" by Naipaul. Read more
Published 2 months ago by reading man
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendously impressive
This is a terrific biography, one of the best I have read in a long time. French treats the work respectfully and the man critically; it is an ideal balance. Read more
Published 23 months ago by P. Stern
5.0 out of 5 stars Helps us to understand the limitations the writer had to overcome at...
I knew that reading this biography carried the risk of hating the writer and developing a bias against his writing. Read more
Published on January 28, 2012 by Beatrice Izzey
3.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent tribute to a great artist cum monster
This book is a brilliant tribute to one of the greatest writers in English of the past few decades. The narrative pace is good and it is gripping to read. Read more
Published on April 7, 2011 by Raghu Nathan
5.0 out of 5 stars A revealing and fascinating biography
Luckily for writers, you don't have to be a "good" person to write good literature. Patrick French`s authorized biography of Nobel laureate V.S. Read more
Published on September 19, 2010 by Rick Skwiot
3.0 out of 5 stars This would have been better if shorter
Since Mr French had access to all Naipaul's papers, he apparently felt the need to include them all, down to grocery lists and bills. Read more
Published on January 11, 2010 by Book Lover
2.0 out of 5 stars NOT SO FAST
Patrick French has worked hard to produce a definitive biography of V.S. Naipaul--the quintessential Westernised Oriental Gentleman--in clear, economical prose, but he does not... Read more
Published on June 13, 2009 by E. Archer
5.0 out of 5 stars Fear does amazing things
A completely satisfying biography--the subject and the biographer combine to make a book that is relentlessly interesting. Read more
Published on January 22, 2009 by Calochortus
4.0 out of 5 stars For Naipaul Fans
This is a must read for Naipaul fans.
Extremly well researched and full of literary gossip.
Not flattering for Naipaul who is portrayed as a nacissitic genius but gives a... Read more
Published on January 18, 2009 by Victor Morcos
5.0 out of 5 stars Scrupulously Thorough
I felt that this book took a while to get going, but once it did, it really grabbed you and held you. Read more
Published on January 4, 2009 by G. Murray
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