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A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

A House for Mr. Biswas (1961)

by V. S. Naipaul

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Like many of the other reviewers here, I found this book very difficult to get into. Abandoned it once after 30 pages, but made a determined second attempt. Ultimately an intense reading experience, if not a great novel. I am astounded by those who speak of the book's "humour." What else amuses them? An elderly vet falling and breaking his hip on the steps of the cenotaph as he tries to lay a wreath? I found this book dark and painful in the extreme, a record of defeat unmitigated by the smallest pleasure; every meal is badly cooked, every physical object is jerry-built and damaged, every outing or promised treat ends in disappointment. (There is one exception, late in the story. "Laden hampers" are featured, an obsessive theme.) Family relationships are universally coercive and/or abusive. Stylistically, as others have noted, it is repetitive and without narrative shape. One feels that details and events have been included for extra-literary reasons. Naipaul says in his introduction to the 20th anniversary edition "Of all my books this is the one closest to me. It is the most personal, created out of what I saw and felt as a child." If this is remotely true it reveals a psychic wound of unimaginable depth and probably explains why Naipaul is widely regarded as a very nasty man, personally speaking.
  booksaplenty1949 | Nov 10, 2015 |
I enjoyed the writing, but the book left me feeling quite sad. Mr Biswas was born in to poverty in Trinidad and struggled all his life to rise above it. He was married young and engulfed into his wife's Sharma's family. He was not a lucky man. and I did not like him very much. Still, he tried. ( )
  TheWasp | May 29, 2015 |
Fun fact: "The origins of the James Bond theme are disputed. Mr. Norman [Barry's biographer] said that Barry brushed off a musical passage from “Bad Sign, Good Sign,” a song he had written for a musical version of the V. S. Naipaul novel A House for Mr. Biswas. With a few adjustments, it became the theme to Dr. No." John Barry's obit, NYT, 2-2-11 ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
'Bigger than all of them was the house, his house',, May 31, 2014
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews

This review is from: A House For Mr Biswas (Kindle Edition)
Wonderful read, highly entertaining with laugh-out-loud moments yet touchingly sad as well.
The novel opens shortly before the death of Mr Biswas, with his fear of losing his home. In the narrative that follows, charting Mr Biswas' life, forever vulnerable to the whims of others, and with no place to call his own, we come to see why the house has such significance for him.
For much of his life lack of money compels him to share a large communal house with his wife's family, overseen by the stern and unpredictable matriarch Mrs Tulsi. In his descriptions of the 'shifting, tangled, multifarious relationships' of the Tulsis come many of the novel's most vividly comic moments:

'To combat W C Tuttle's gramophone Chinta and Govind had been giving a series of pious singings from the Ramayana....she sang very well. Govind sang less mellifluously: he partly whined and partly grunted, from his habit of singing while lying on his belly, Caught in this crossfire of song, which sometimes lasted a whole evening, Mr Biswas, listening, listening, would on a sudden rush in pants and vest to the inner room and bang on the partition of Govind's room and bang on the partition of W C Tuttle's drawingroom.
The Tuttles never replied. Chinta sang with added zest. Govind sometimes only chuckled between couplets, making it appear to be part of his song.'


"One of the sons-in-law was invariably responsible for precipitating Mrs Tulsi's faint. He was now hounded by silence and hostility. If he attempted to make friendly talk many glances instantly reproved him for his frivolity. If he moped in a corner or went up to his room he was condemned for his callousness and ingratitude. He was expected to stay in the hall and show all the signs of contrition and unease.. He waited for the sounds of footsteps coming from the Rose Room; he accosted a busy, offended sister and, ignoring snubs, made whispered enquiries about Mrs Tulsi's condition. Next morning he came down, shy and sheepish. Mrs Tulsi would be better. She would ignore him. But that evening forgiveness would be in the air. The offender would be spoken to as if nothing had happened, and he would respond with eagerness.'

Brilliant observations on human behaviour, an absolute must-read. ( )
  starbox | May 31, 2014 |
Mr. Biswas is a stupid, thoughtless, feckless, odious man. His wife and her entire family and all their retainers are likewise stupid and odious, and we can add to the list — conniving.

Nothing of real consequence occurs in this novel. Nobody of consequence graces its pages. No person, with the possible exception of Mr. Burnett, the Sentinel editor who gives Mr. Biswas a job, is portrayed by the author as decent in his or her dealings with family or friends. The author has such contempt for his characters that he only reluctantly names them when he absolutely has to. The most contemptible characters get no name at all or a made-up mock name.

All of this takes place in a milieu of crushing poverty — material and spiritual. And we are treated to mind-numbing detail which seems to merely pile on the inconsequential sequence of events and stupefying contemptibility of the entire parade of people who populate this over-long novel. Nothing is served. Nobody learns a thing. The intergenerational poverty is not abated nor is the appalling ignorance.


I have no answer. I am sorry I wasted my time. ( )
2 vote Poquette | May 20, 2014 |
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For this book written between 1957 and 1960 A Late Dedication
31 July 1932, Gloucester
3 February 1996, Salterton
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Ten weeks before he died, Mr. Mohun Biswas, a journalist of Sikkim Street, St. James, Port of Spain, was sacked.
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Una Casa Para El Senor Biswas (Contempora) is the same work that A house for Mr Biswas
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375707166, Paperback)

The early masterpiece of V. S. Naipaul’s brilliant career, A House for Mr. Biswas is an unforgettable story inspired by Naipaul's father that has been hailed as one of the twentieth century's finest novels.

In his forty-six short years, Mr. Mohun Biswas has been fighting against destiny to achieve some semblance of independence, only to face a lifetime of calamity. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning death of his father, for which he is inadvertently responsible, Mr. Biswas yearns for a place he can call home. But when he marries into the domineering Tulsi family on whom he indignantly becomes dependent, Mr. Biswas embarks on an arduous–and endless–struggle to weaken their hold over him and purchase a house of his own. A heartrending, dark comedy of manners, A House for Mr. Biswas masterfully evokes a man’s quest for autonomy against an emblematic post-colonial canvas.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:40 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Heartrending and darkly comic, this book masterfully evokes a man's quest for autonomy against the backdrop of post-colonial Trinidad.

» see all 4 descriptions

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