Obituary: VS Naipaul – BBC News

Obituary: VS Naipaul – BBC News

VS NaipaulAuthor's image
Colin McPherson

It is universally agreed that Sir Vidia Naipaul was a great writer of the English phrase; a master stylist and storyteller with a cold and clear eye for the irony, the tragedies and the sufferings of humanity. But here everything stops.

For his many supporters, his fiction has had ruthless comic clarity and his journey has written a terrifying honesty, refusing to fascinate or idealize the developing world.

They greeted him as a towering intellect – offering an original, hot, refreshing critique, devoid of political correctness: attacking the cruelty of Islam, the corruption of Africa and the self-inflicted suffering it saw in the poorest parts of the globe. .

For his many critics, Naipaul's writing was worrying and even bigoted. They recognized his literary gifts but saw him as a hater: an uncle Tom who dealt with stereotypes, challenged his prejudices and let himself be taken by contempt for the world from which he came.

Of course, he gave cause for their resentment. "Probably there was no imperialism like that of Islam and the Arabs," he once declared. He was contemptuous of the Caribbean, wrote that Africa would return to the "bush" and often veered toward unrepentant misogyny.

"I read a piece of writing and, within a couple of paragraphs, I know if it's from a woman or not," he told an interviewer. "I think (I am) you learn to me." The women were tight and overly sentimental, he declared. Jane Austen, in particular, did not invent anything.

Author's image
John Minihan

Image caption

VS Naipaul in the 60s – the decade in which he published a series of books that explored his childhood memories in the Caribbean

His colleague Nobel, Derek Walcott, was pungent. Naipaul wrote a beautiful prose, he said, "marked by scrofula" and "a repulsion towards the Negroes … a physical and historical aberration that, like every prejudice, disfigures the observer".

The academic, Edward Said, harnessed himself for the attacks on Islam – claiming he found it hard to believe that any rational person could attack entire cultures on such a scale.

In person, Sir Vidia could be gracious. But, just as often, he was just as haughty, irascible and quickly provoked to bile. He has enjoyed epic feuds with friends and enemies, has acted indescribably for women and has boasted of a general lack of sensitivity towards all those who have crossed his path.

When Salman Rushdie went to hide after The Satanic Verses, for example, Naipaul described the fatwa as "an extreme form of literary criticism". So he threw his head back and laughed.