- File Size: 1283 KB
- Print Length: 379 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0618001999
- Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st Mariner Books ed edition (February 11, 2014)
- Publication Date: February 11, 2014
- Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00IHHQXGI
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #970,216 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents Kindle Edition
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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 alternate kindle_edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
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So we can assume that at least in part this is fictionalized biography. Does that make it not worth reading?
I would say no. Theroux was an acquaintance of Naipaul and he gives us an understanding of the man that gibes with French's scrupulous account. His knowing Naipaul well is an advantage that French doesn't have, so even if he departs from the facts, he nonetheless presents the "real" Naipaul.
I say "real" because after reading both French and Theroux, you're left with the feeling that only Naipaul knows the real man. You learn about what he said, what he did, to some extent why, both from his own lips, the testimony of others, and the judgments of his biographers, but I don't think the figure in his carpet is ever truly revealed.
My own opinion, based on these biographies and his fiction and non-fiction, is that Naipaul is a nihilistic egotist, a narcissist to the nth degree, a cynical misanthrope whose sole reason for living is to fulfill his desires at the expense of everyone and everything.
He says that he admires the Russian writers Aksakov and Gogol (while dismissing Jane Austen, Hardy, Henry James, and Conrad), but his true affinity is with another long-forgotten Russian writer, Artzbashyeff, in particular his once famous novel SANINE.
Sanine, the title anti-hero, is a ruthless egotist who tramples on all morality and human feeling to satisfy his perverted soul. Though his adventures differ from Naipaul's, he's Naipaul's dopplegaenger.
Alas, Artsbashyeff was a miserable writer, a third-rate hack, whereas Naipaul wrote the most stylish prose of his generation and had the insight of genius when it came to understanding others. Too bad that hatred was his primary reaction to them.
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. However, Theroux never does what I think most people would have done in similar circumstances, which is simply to point to the check and say, "shall we split this?" Theroux comes across as essentially a wimp in the presence of Naipaul. Perhaps he believes this is the price he has to pay for Naipaul's mentorship of his budding writing career. However, this fawning continues long after Theroux has become an established writer with best sellers to his credit. Theroux appears to have been well aware of Naipaul's nasty side, yet overlooked it for the sake of having the friendship of someone he thinks is a great writer. Only when Naipaul ends the friendship does Theroux go public with a portrayal of Naipaul's true nature. But this is hardly poison pen; it is honest, warts and all biography. Boswell clearly revered Johnson, yet he doesn't flinch from portraying Johnson accurately, including much that is unflattering.
This book is an excellent read if you are interested in either of these two authors, or even if you just like a well-written, flowing narrative. Highly recommended.
Top international reviews
Theroux meets Naipaul, a Trinidadian of Indian extraction, in Uganda in the 60s. Naipaul, a haughty Brahmin, adopts Theroux as a friend and a kind of protege. Theroux, at that point a university lecturer and not at that stage a published author is flattered and encouraged by the friendship of such a famous author.
The book charts that friendship through its 40-year course to its bitter end. Theroux depicts Naipaul initially as a conceited, brilliant, selfish and intolerant man. If you are familiar with Theroux's travel books you will know that he too can be a judgemental man of unorthodox opinions who doesn't suffer fools gladly, and you can easily imagine that each saw something of himself in the other - similar goals to aim at and similar foes to fight. Naipaul at this stage cuts quite a comic figure, a little puffed-up man with startling and often ridiculous opinions, often rude and bullying, and indifferent to the needs of others.
Through the 70's Theroux's career takes off and his success (in financial terms at least) approaches that of Naipaul, and Theroux's opinion gradually changes from amused admiration, to just admiration, to puzzlement, then to horrified dislike. the comic appeal of Naipaul soon wears thin; he is capable of terrible acts of cruelty to those in a weaker position than him; he is brutal to his loyal wife who caters for his every whim and is rewarded by infidelity and contempt. Naipaul's selfishness is nauseating and his snobbishness and racism ridiculous and despicable.
The friendship ends abruptly with the death of Naipaul's first wife and his remarriage to a second wife who seems to have encouraged (or even initiated) the rift with Theroux.
That's about it. It's a simple enough story, told over nearly 400 pages, but I found it gripping and highly enjoyable. I love Theroux's writing - he is never dull, and his rich turns of phrase and nose for a good story are wonderful. His descriptions here make me want to visit Uganda and Rwanda, and his accounts of the various dinner parties they attend are very entertaining. The story ('whcih if it isn't true, should be') of the American writer who mistakes Naipaul for another, blind author made me laugh out loud. Naipaul becomes an utterly three-dimensional character during the course of this - if this is an untruthful portrait, this is a masterly character to invent. There are hilarious and horrifying anecdotes to illustrate Naipaul's rudeness and self-absorption; his first wife, Pat is described with touching affection; his second is depicted as an illiterate domineering social climber.
Uncompromising and hugely enjoyable.
Theroux präsentiert Naipaul als Restaurantrechnung-Allergiker, als exzentrischen, rassistischen, snobistischen, misogynen Zwerg, der keine Götter neben sich duldet, der allerdings laufend auch skurrile, unterhaltsame Tics und Bonmots produziert, die kurzweilige Lektüre garantieren. Theroux schont sich auch selbst nicht, wenn er etwa speicheltropfend beschreibt, wie es ihn nach Naipauls und anderen Ehefrauen gelüstet.
Schon in früheren Büchern schrieb Paul Theroux über sich in einer irritierenden Mischung aus Wahrheit und Fiktion. Aber da tauchten keine Prominenten auf, zumindest nicht mit Klarnamen.
Offenbar hat Theroux auch in seinem Naipaul-Band Sir Vidia's Shadow Dinge erfunden, die für den Leser realistisch klingen. Wer die "Wahrheit" über Naipaul lesen will, nimmt eher Patrick Frenchs exzellente und von Naipaul anerkannte Biographie; French widerspricht Therouxs Sir Vidia's Shadow in mindestens vier markanten Details und zitiert ergeben-devote Theroux-Briefe an Naipaul (French durfte Therouxs Briefe im Naipaul-Archiv lesen; Theroux selbst durfte seine eigenen Briefe nicht lesen). Naipaul selbst äußert sich nicht zu Sir Vidia's Shadow.
Einmal mokiert sich Theroux leicht darüber, dass Naipaul bestimmte Mitbringsel aus Afrika begehrt. Nur bei French erfahren wir, dass Theroux zuvor Naipaul aufgefordert hatte, sich etwas zu wünschen.
Bei French erscheint Naipaul noch schriller als bei Theroux. French ist zwar gut lesbar, doch wegen seiner überbordenden Faktensammlung nicht so gut lesbar wie Theroux - der es womöglich mit der Wahrheit nicht so genau nimmt. Theroux lobte Frenchs Naipaul-Biographie in der englischen Times, wohl auch, weil French das negative Naipaul-Bild von Theroux mehr als bestätigt; im selben Artikel räumt Theroux kleinere dichterische Freiheiten ein.
Man sollte Sir Vidia's Shadow daher wohl als gelungenen Roman und nicht als wirklichkeitsgetreue Biographie einer "Freundschaft" lesen.
Die Atmosphäre in Afrika ist dampfig dicht, die Erzählung beste Unterhaltung für Anhänger des gepflegten Hot Country Reading. Das heiße, leicht heruntergekommene Uganda, später das steife, kalte England, die Käuze in der britischen Provinz. Und immer wieder auch: Probleme und Grübeleien von Autoren, die um Anerkennung, manchmal ums Überleben, aber zudem stets um bestmögliche Ausdrucksformen ringen. Ja, ich mochte die Einblicke ins Schriftstellerleben und die sorgfältigen Gedanken über gutes Schreiben, die nie gelehrt oder langatmig wirken.
In den ersten Buchkapiteln reisen Theroux und Naipaul gemeinsam durch mehrere Länder Ostafrikas. Bevor es Theroux ausdrücklich bestätigt, wird klar, wie und wo Naipaul Inspiration für seine meisterliche Afrika-Erzählung In a Free State sammelte. Tatsächlich wirkt die Afrika-Stimmung bei Theroux ähnlich wie bei In a Free State - wohl ein gezielter Anklang.
Theroux erzählt lakonisch-treffend, zunächst mit etwas Amore, mit markanten Dialogen und, für Theroux-Verhältnisse, mit relativ wenig säuerlichem Selbstmitleid. Die Atmosphäre erinnert deutlich an andere jüngere Theroux-Bücher, die ebenfalls in Afrika, London und in der englischen Provinz spielen, so My Other Life und My Secret History oder auch das schwächere Dark Star Safari. Der Ton ist bedächtig, aber nicht weitschweifig, das Auge scharf.
Motive, die in den ersten Jahren der Bekanntschaft eine Rolle spielten, tauchen drei Kontinente, 30 Jahre und 300 Buchseiten später wieder auf und geben Sir Vidia's Shadow beeindruckende historische Tiefenschärfe. Wie die Jahre vergingen, denkt der Leser und tastet schüchtern, ob er nach dieser Zeitreise überhaupt noch Haare am Kopf hat.
Sir Vidia's Shadow gilt als bösartige Abrechnung Therouxs mit V.S. Naipaul. Doch über viele Kapitel bleiben echte Tiefschläge aus. Vielmehr beschwört Theroux immer wieder die "Freundschaft" der beiden Männer, die ungemütlich eng nebeneinander eine gemeinsame Nische auf dem Buchmarkt beackern. Über die vielen interessanten Kapitel hin verstärkt sich aber der Eindruck, dass Theroux vor allem Naipauls Restaurantrechnungen bezahlen und Naipauls Manuskripte lesen muss. Theroux betont tapfer, wie viel er durch den Austausch immer wieder lernt; er wirkt leicht masochistisch dabei.
Therouxs erste derbe Attacke trifft nicht Großmeister V.S., sondern dessen viel jüngeren Bruder Shiva (dessen frühe Trinidad-Bücher mich durchaus an V.S. Naipauls eigene Trinidad-Bücher erinnern). Shiva Naipaul gilt allgemein als der nettere, umgänglichere der beiden ungleichen Brüder, aber Theroux rückt ganz andere Aspekte in den Vordergrund. Säuerlich vergiftet schreibt Theroux später über Naipauls zweite Ehefrau und erst danach beginnt die Demontage Naipauls mit einer Generalkritik seiner neueren Bücher, zuletzt mit billiger Verächtlichkeit samt Rassismus.
Der zweiten Lady Naipaul schreibt Theroux auch eine entscheidende Rolle beim Auseinanderdriften der beiden Autoren zu. Theroux traf Nadira Naipaul erstmals 1996 auf dem Literaturfest in Hay-on-Wye; wenig später redeten Theroux und Naipaul nicht mehr mit-, sondern nur noch schlecht übereinander. Allerdings, die Literaturwelt hat es gesehen: Beim Festival in Hay 2011 schüttelten Sir Vidia/Lady Naipaul/Paul Theroux die Hände, Ian McEwan vermittelte es, ein iPhone-Video vom Ereignis steht im Netz.
Therouxs Englisch war überwiegend leicht zu lesen, passend zum Schreibstil, es gibt aber für mich ungewöhnliche Vokabeln wie nigrescent.