Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ Free Shipping
Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents Paperback – January 8, 2001
|New from||Used from|
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
In several of his recent fictions, Paul Theroux has visibly mined his own experience for raw material, going so far as to provide the protagonist of My Other Life with his own name and curriculum vitae. Now, in Sir Vidia's Shadow, he casts a cold and cantankerous eye on his friendship with V.S. Naipaul. The two first met in Uganda in 1966, when the 23-year-old Theroux was teaching at the local university and trying, with only limited success, to transform himself into a writer. The arrival of Naipaul--at 34 already a world-class novelist, with A House for Mr. Biswas under his belt--was a signal event in Theroux's life: "I had been working in the dark, just groping, until I had met Vidia."
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
The subject of considerable attention well ahead of its publication date (which the publisher has now moved up), this frank and revealing study of two writers, longtime friends and mutual supporters, who finally come to a decisive parting of the ways, is sometimes sad, often funny and occasionally touching. Such is Theroux's apparently effortless recall of conversations, scenes and currents of feeling that it reads more like a novel with a particularly vivid central character than a memoir. That central character is of course the novelist V.S. Naipaul, seen here as brilliant, eccentric, irascible, often, it seems, purposefully outrageous. The two met in Africa in 1966 when Theroux was just beginning as a writer and Naipaul was already an acknowledged star. Theroux, who portrays himself as much more accommodating than Naipaul, puts himself in the background, delighted with each crumb of approbation from the master. There were many things Theroux found odd about his friend: his snobbishness, his apparent racism, his selfish willingness to let other people take care of his every need. (He recalls one especially costly meal with Naipaul, for which he paid, as usual, that left him without the fare home.) But it seems to have been Pat, Naipaul's long-suffering English wife, who finally came between them; Theroux, who confesses to having once pondered an affair with her, remained always an admirer of her decent stoicism, and wrote a touching tribute on her death. This was then seized upon by Naipaul's hastily married second wife (a Pakistani newspaper columnist who would seem, in her bumptiousness and careless writing, the antithesis of everything Naipaul cherished) to create a rift with Theroux. A last chance meeting in the street produced Naipaul's memorable line "Take it on the chin and move on," and the indefatigable Theroux had himself the theme for this vastly readable book. Is it fair to Sir Vidia? Impossible to be sure, but it is an enthralling examination of a seldom-treated subject, a thorny literary friendship. First serial to the New Yorker; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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.
Most recent customer reviews
A House for Mr. Biswas, one of Naipaul's most popular works