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Half a Life: A Novel Paperback – October 8, 2002
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Naipaul's protagonist is Willie Somerset Chandran, named after Somerset Maugham's encounter with Willie's father in the 1930s while traveling "to get material for a novel about spirituality." Willie travels to England for his education, where he becomes "part of the special, passing bohemian-immigrant life of London of the late 1950s." Willie soon realizes that his colonial background allows him to write short stories for well-meaning white liberals, and he begins "to understand that he was free to present himself as he wished" and that he could "remake himself and his past" through his writing. The effect is suffocating rather than liberating, and he marries a vaguely sketched "girl or young woman from an African country," who has read his one published book. Willie begins another "half life" in colonial Mozambique, where he soon tires of the domestic and sexual tedium of plantation life and flees to Germany, mournfully reflecting that "I have been hiding for too long."
This is classic Naipaul, with its effortless dissection of the damaging personal consequences of post-war decolonization, but its virtue seems its primary vice, as the novel feels like a conflation of several earlier Naipaul books, including The Mimic Men and the brilliant A Bend in the River. Consequently, some readers may well find that Half a Life reads more like half a novel. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
It doesn't take the reader long to realize that Naipaul is a master writer. The prose is simple; his sentences crisp and short; the tale easily unfolds. The main character is Willie Somerset Chandron, and his life is the tale Naipaul tells. Early on in the book, Willie is described as "the mission-school student who had not completed his education, with no idea of what he wanted to do, except to get away from what he knew, and yet with very little idea of what lay outside what he knew..." And so, the book traces Willie's aimlessness and his search to find his place in life as he wanders from India to England to Africa.
Naipaul overlays many themes to explain Willie's lack of engagement in life: the Indian caste system, racial prejudices, youthful rebellion to name a few and explores them in unique ways. The combination of them is overwhelming to think about, let alone live through, and perhaps that was Naipaul's thesis in explaining why Willie couldn't fully engage.
This is a difficult book not to discuss with someone. I think members of book discussion clubs would like it very much for the number of issues raised and the life it describes. Anyone who reads this book will appreciate fine writing, even if they don't come away entertained.
The offspring of a Brahmin functionary in a maharajah's court and an Untouchable woman, someone to whom his father was drawn temporarily in an effort to emulate the sacrifice of Gandhi, Willie belongs to neither group, an outsider even to the lowest caste. He escapes to England, where he remains an outsider, for his schooling and an early career as a writer, eventually fleeing again with Ana, a Portuguese-African woman, to her farm in Mozambique, where he lives for eighteen years. These are eighteen years in which he remains alienated, however, living half a life in a half-developed country to which he, apparently, is only half-committed.
The political and racial tensions of the novel--the bloody independence movement in India, the Notting Hill race riots in London, and the guerrilla movement for independence in Mozambique--are vivid and dramatic, paralleling Willie's personal conflicts. His early sexual encounters, which might have brought him some sense of belonging, are unfulfilling, however, laden with racial overtones and additional tensions, and described by Naipaul in startingly passionless and unerotic prose.Read more ›
This short novel tells the story of the first 41 years in the life of Willie Chandran. Willie is a Hindu Indian born of a Brahmin father and "backward" (untouchable) mother. This mixed marriage makes him an outsider in his native village. He is educated by Christian missionaries and goes to college in London. He writes a book of short stories while still a student. This slender book causes him to meet Ana, a mixed race Portuguese from Mozambique. Ana thinks she has found a soulmate in Willie; his writing has touched her so deeply. In actuality Willie has merely rewritten scenes remembered from old Hollywood movies. Willie sees in Ana a way to avoid returning to India or facing the reality of finishing school without a job to go to in London. Willie relocates to Ana's estate in Mozambique and settles into a quiet life. Ana has inherited the estate from her grandfather. Willie and Ana do little work; they attend parties and visit other settlers. Almost all of their friends are of mixed race. The pure white Portuguese settlers tend to stand aloof from those that are of mixed race, regardless of comparable wealth. Willie begins to go to brothels with an acquaintance, an estate manager from a nearby farm. He then begins an affair with Graca, the mixed race wife of another estate manager. In the background African rebels are fighting the Portuguese colonial government and, so slowly that is almost imperceptible, they take over...
The book left me with a curiously empty feeling. I never was able to empathize with the hero, Willie, or any of the other characters.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Enjoyed the authors honest character. I believe many who read this will identify with Willy to some degree. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Amazon Customer
It's good when you start reading a book and know before you've reached the third page that judges were right in picking it as a winner. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Rosalind Minett
Not his greatest but even his misses are as great as most average writers hits. Mr biswas or his travel books wld be a better place to startPublished on December 18, 2013 by Amazon Customer
Half a life is just that. It's a young man's story until he's about 40. Willie's born in the Maharaja's state in India, from a line of people who have performed sacred Hindi... Read morePublished on December 7, 2012 by Suzanne
This is the first novel by Naipaul that I have ever read. In fact, I don't remember having heard of him before my book club chose this book. Read morePublished on October 26, 2012 by Julie W. Capell
No doubt Naipaul is a good writer and a splendid storyteller. I found the novel excellent at its best, and boring and sad at its worst. Read morePublished on September 6, 2012 by Jørgen, Brussels
I would skip this unengaging work and head to others by the author (Bend in the River, etc) unless completeness is your goal. Read morePublished on March 31, 2012 by silvercritic
This was an interesting book played out on an interesting stage with a main character who is not a hero, a bit of a chicken who makes questionable half decisions. Read morePublished on July 6, 2011 by E. Miller
It's nearly impossible to really write a review of Naipaul's Half a Life without including a gut reaction. Read morePublished on January 13, 2011 by Becky at "One Literature Nut"