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Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul
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Half a Life (original 2001; edition 2001)

by V.S. Naipaul

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974None8,799 (3.09)15
Member:anzlitlovers
Title:Half a Life
Authors:V.S. Naipaul
Info:Picador (2001), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
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Half a Life by V. S. Naipaul (2001)

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
wonderful writing, one can immediately see why this author is so highly rated ( )
  NaggedMan | Jul 16, 2013 |
Sometimes I find it so hard to see past the characters to the analogy. I don't like Willie. I don't like his father. Story of Ana, please, or story of June or of Willie's mother or of Sarojini. Perhaps, as the Nobel comittee said, he can "compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories" but they are still the histories of men.

Perhaps it's my error, expecting to like the characters I read about?

Cruelly funny at times, and Naipul is a fabulous writer so it's delicious to read.
( )
  veracite | Apr 7, 2013 |
My first incursion into Naipaul's work, I thoroughly enjoyed this gentle, compelling insight into a kind of life and lifestyle that is remote from my personal experience. ( )
  NaggedMan | Dec 15, 2012 |
It's nearly impossible to really write a review of Naipaul's Half a Life without including a gut reaction. The multi-layered threading of ideas presented in the novel are mind-numbing, to say the least. Every possible view and corner of race, social class, empire, colonization, education, and sexual politics are explored through the main character's life. Just as you get the sense that you are nailing down a "point" being made, the narrative snakes its way in a different direction.

Although I feel like I have read many books centered on these themes of identity, colonization, etc., I have to admit to feeling side-swiped by Naipaul's narrative style and message. Maybe I wanted a more neatly, discoverable message. Maybe it was the startling jump in 18 years in the narration that finally put the nail in the coffin for me. Or, maybe it was the oddly callous approach to sex (not graphically described in any way) that left me concerned by the main character's mechanical way of life. I wasn't so much shocked or appalled by Willie's life as I was concerned by his oddly disconnected, yet heightened existence. On one hand he was disconnected from every social group or culture he lived among, and yet on the other, he blended in and had insights into the hypocrisies of every group in which he mingled. It could be that this seeming "observation" mode taken by the main character is just the point? Willie really was as the title says, always living "half a life" because he was always an observer in every culture, position, circle, or relationship that he was engaged.

Strangely, I'm glad that I tackled Half a Life. In comparison to Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas, which I was familiar from a paper I wrote in graduate school, this later novel has a deeper sense of tension than I remember in his earlier piece. In Half a Life, the narration is linear in one sense, but splintered and fractured in a very deconstructionist sort of way that forces the reader to feel the instability of the main character. The concept of "still waters run deep" is a great way of describing the novel, in that the surface language and story feel smooth and uninterrupted, while the deep underpinnings of it are stirred and tumultuous beyond recognition. ( )
  mjmbecky | Jan 13, 2011 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1302708.html

Having enjoyed A House for Mr Biswas, I tried this as a follow-up, but did not enjoy it as much. Naipaul's protagonist is Indian, and gets a scholarship to study in London, where he starts to make a career as a journalist and writer; and then he abruptly goes to Africa with his current lover. The best thing about the book is the vivid sense of place of the three settings - the immediate post-independence period in India, the London literary sub-culture, and the African colony lurching towards independence: I really felt immersed in the settings, both the physical and human aspects of the geography.

That said, the book is rather frustratingly incomplete. There is occasional name-dropping of real people - Krishna Menon, Arthur Christiansen, Che Guevara; but I couldn't really understand the contrast between on the one hand this specificity about real people, and the very well conveyed sense of place, and on the other a geographical coyness. Why not name the Portuguese colony on the east coast of Africa? (There is only one, after all.) Why not be more specific about Willie's home town in India? Perhaps the point is to make it a more universal critique of colonialism, but I think it would have been more effective without the vagueness.

It's not a very cheerful book. Willie makes love to many women, but doesn't really appear to enjoy it, or to like them very much. I don't think it is misogynistic - Willie's sister, and his Portuguese African girlfriend, are both memorable charact ( )
  nwhyte | Sep 5, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
''Half a Life,'' the fierce new novel by V. S. Naipaul, the new Nobel laureate, is one of those rare books that stands as both a small masterpiece in its own right and as a potent distillation of the author's work to date, a book that recapitulates all his themes of exile, postcolonial confusion, third world angst, and filial love and rebellion while recounting with uncommon elegance and acerbity the story of the coming of age of its hero, Willie Chandran.
 
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Willie Chandran asked her father one day, "Why is my middle name Somerset?"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 037570728X, Paperback)

Half a Life finds the veteran Booker and Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul on familiar territory, blending autobiography and fiction in an exploration of the "half lives" of individuals brought up in the English colonies and educated in metropolitan cities.

Naipaul's protagonist is Willie Somerset Chandran, named after Somerset Maugham's encounter with Willie's father in the 1930s while traveling "to get material for a novel about spirituality." Willie travels to England for his education, where he becomes "part of the special, passing bohemian-immigrant life of London of the late 1950s." Willie soon realizes that his colonial background allows him to write short stories for well-meaning white liberals, and he begins "to understand that he was free to present himself as he wished" and that he could "remake himself and his past" through his writing. The effect is suffocating rather than liberating, and he marries a vaguely sketched "girl or young woman from an African country," who has read his one published book. Willie begins another "half life" in colonial Mozambique, where he soon tires of the domestic and sexual tedium of plantation life and flees to Germany, mournfully reflecting that "I have been hiding for too long."

This is classic Naipaul, with its effortless dissection of the damaging personal consequences of post-war decolonization, but its virtue seems its primary vice, as the novel feels like a conflation of several earlier Naipaul books, including The Mimic Men and the brilliant A Bend in the River. Consequently, some readers may well find that Half a Life reads more like half a novel. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:39 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Half a Life is the story of Willie Chandran, whose father, heeding the call of Mahatma Gandhi, turned his back on his brahmin heritage and married a woman of low caste - a disastrous union he would live to regret, as he would the children that issued from it. When Willie reaches manhood, his flight from the travails of his mixed birth takes him from India to London, where, in the shabby haunts of immigrants and literary bohemians of the 1950s, he contrives a new identity. This is what happens as he tries to defeat self-doubt in sexual adventures and in the struggle to become a writer - strivings that bring him to the brink of exhaustion, from which he is rescued, to his amazement, only by the love of a good woman. And this is what happens when he returns with her - carried along, really - to her home in Africa, to live, until the last doomed days of colonialism, yet another life not his own."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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