Customer Review

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I had admired his talent. After a while, I admired nothing else [about him]. Finally, I began to wonder about his talent.", August 16, 2008
This review is from: Sir Vidia's Shadow: a Friendship Across Five Continents (Paperback)
What began as a mentoring relationship between established novelist V. S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux, a young writer working on his first novel, went on to endure as a "friendship" for thirty years as both writers traveled the world but remained in touch. They met when Theroux was a young ex-Peace Corp worker teaching in Uganda at the university in Makerere in 1966, and Naipaul, nine years his senior, became "writer-in-residence" there, though Naipaul hated teaching and mocked the writing of his students and the Makerere faculty. He did, however, recognize Theroux's talent, and he did help and encourage him to get his novel published. Theroux, in turn, was an astute reader of Naipaul's work, and both benefited from the relationship, at least at first.

From 1967 - 1977, Theroux published ten successful novels and short story collections, all of which Theroux describes in this book, and all were praised, at least privately, by Naipaul. Somewhat less attention is paid here to the almost equal number of works published by Naipaul, some of which Theroux read and helped proofread. A crusty, critical, and often cruel man, full of contradictions, Naipaul was a difficult "friend," and when he decided that he did not like someone, there was no turning back, no forgiveness for human failings. Theroux managed to navigate that minefield of hostility for thirty years.

In fact, shortly before the first of Naipaul's novels was published in the United States, Theroux (in 1972) wrote an introductory biography and critical assessment of Naipaul's work, full of praise for Naipaul, and helped to create an audience for Naipaul's work in the United States. After this somewhat effusive work was published, however, Theroux refused further interviews or commentary about Naipaul, insisting that "I will never [again] write about Naipaul. He is my friend." That declaration is belied by the publication of this book, the last twenty-percent of which is an uninterrupted excoriation of Naipaul and his second wife at the end of the friendship with Theroux. Here Theroux shows that he is at least as unforgiving as Naipaul, with a mean streak of his own.

In time Theroux would become a literary star with over forty novels and books of non-fiction. Naipaul, a painstaking, often philosophical writer, eventually won the Nobel Prize in 2001, and was knighted. Though this book is fascinating for its picture of the mentoring process and of a friendship which managed to survive despite the pettiness and frequent mean-spiritedness of Naipaul, it is also a portrait of Theroux, who published this book as his own enduring form of payback. n Mary Whipple

In a Free State: A Novel With Two Supporting Narratives, Naipaul's Booker Prize winner
A House for Mr. Biswas, one of Naipaul's most popular works
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown, recent Theroux travelogue
The Great Railway Bazaar
The Mosquito Coast, one of Theroux's most popular novels.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 17, 2008 4:31:27 PM PDT
Sam Sattler says:
Mary, I read this book several years ago and was fascinated by the relationship of these two writers. Sadly enough, it was almost like slowly driving past a bad car wreck and feeling guilty for sneaking a peek at the carnage. I found the book a hard one to resist, but one that left me feeling a little sorry that I had read it because it changed my perception of both men in a negative way. I totally agree that Theroux has achieved the ultimate payback with this book and have been a little surprised that Naiapul hasn't responded in-kind.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 18, 2008 3:43:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 18, 2008 3:43:59 AM PDT
Mary Whipple says:
Hi, Sam. I suspect that Naipaul considers his Nobel Prize for Literature ample payback. :-) Theroux continues in his role as grumpy old man. Dark Star Safari is is about his fairly recent trip through Africa, but he finds nothing positive to say about any of the countries he visits. In Hotel Honolulu he mocks the people and cultures who took him in and "adopted" him when his marriage broke up. I wish he'd return to the style he had in Mosquito Coast and in his early stories. Best, Mary

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 18, 2008 3:28:45 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 19, 2008 9:00:49 AM PDT]
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Mary Whipple

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