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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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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 |
This multi-generational novel set among the Hindi community of Trinidad is a modern classic. The inter-family squabbling and intrigue takes on a mock heroic quality with humour and pathos offered in equal measure. The book can also be read as a fictional portrait of his own family and, in particular, his father. Naipaul also offers telling details about his development as a writer.
  vplprl | Nov 13, 2013 |
Mr. Biswas is "born the wrong way" and in his superstitious village, that makes him unlucky, dangerous, and a person who must avoid natural water (ponds, streams, etc.) at all costs. But as a child, Mr. Biswas gets distracted one day and plays in the pond, bringing calamity on his family and himself. The rest of his childhood is spent being shuttled among various extended family members and creates a lifelong yearning for a home of his own.

Mr. Biswas has ambitions, but no plans for achieving them; intelligence, but no common sense; and a decided lack of gumption. His entire life, recorded in detail in the novel, is a long series of misadventures, brow-beatings, and failures. He ends up married to the first girl he sees, and her domineering family railroads him into things for the rest of his life. Whenever he does attempt to break out of their grip, he is either squashed or fails so spectacularly that he must crawl back to them.

The first few pages tell the reader of his fate, so there is no suspense, simply a long explication of how he ended up there. Although there are humorous bits, mainly it's a rather depressing tale of a weak man. I found it a bit of a slog and wanted to shake Mr. Biswas frequently. Given the lack of plot, I was disappointed not to learn more about Trinidad's history or culture at least. Altogether a book I wanted to enjoy, much more than I did. ( )
1 vote labfs39 | Oct 1, 2013 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:10 -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.

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