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The Enigma of Arrival by V. S. Naipaul
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The Enigma of Arrival (1987)

by V. S. Naipaul

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (7)  Dutch (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Rather vague and yet surprisingly repetitive reflections of his initial experiences outside his native Trinidad. Could find absolutely no connection to his (apparently novelized) telling. Gave up past the half-point. ( )
  JamesMScott | Jan 1, 2015 |
Once I’d settled into this, it was a beautiful read. Naipaul is a Nobel Laureate and so you expect that the prose will be challenging. But while A Bend in the River and In a Free State are more “psychologically challenging” as I said in my review of the latter, the challenge with Enigma is that is so very, very simple.

The prose is so measured and the descriptions so simple that you can be forgiven for getting bored until you grasp what Naipaul is doing. This is no accident. The prose perfectly fits the intent of the author. This is a book that is all about reflection, all about understanding the significance of the mundane and all about knowing where you have come from and where you currently are.

In using this construction, Naipaul allows us to read the novel on several different levels. The simplest approach (and the one a British expat in Saudi would most appreciate) is to read it as a beautifully descriptive eulogy to the British countryside. At the most complex level, this is probably beyond me. But there is something here for
every mature novel reader.

I say mature because so many readers these days expect novels to consist of a strong plot. This is not what you’re going to get here as Naipaul describes in detail the many years he lived in a small cottage on a Wiltshire estate. He also describes his emigration from Trinidad to study at Oxford. While plot is not necessary for a good novel, it does help that there are strong characters. These consist mostly of the inhabitants of the estate and all are crafted with care so that, like the reclusive Naipaul, you only get to know them as well as he did.

Along the way, he gives us a great deal of insight into the formative processes of a number of his early works. If you’ve read some of these, as I have, then you’ll find this interesting. If you haven’t, then you probably won’t. So, this is a book that should be read after you’ve completed a few of Naipaul’s key books.

As will all Naipaul that I’ve read so far, he is very good at capturing the issues faced by people who find themselves grappling with cultural identity. As I’ve spent more than half my life out of my passport culture, I very much relate to this. Enigma is known as a semi-autobiographical novel, but at times I felt like he was writing my biography!

For the patient, this book has a great deal to offer. It would probably benefit from a couple of readings actually. There’s a lot going on behind the simple prose and it is worth spending time taking it all in. ( )
  arukiyomi | Jun 14, 2014 |
Just a note here. I've read this book twice and have an observation that I haven't come across elsewhere. In short it is that there is a vertiginous aspect to Naipaul's descriptions of landscape here. I never have a stable sense of the world around the narrator, but one that is always off-kilter, if not spinning. This is something that I've come across in none of Naipaul's other books, all of which I've read. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Barely disguised autobiography marred by an overweening solipsism, for all the quality and precision of the writing. It as if the characters (and places) of the book exist for the narrator only when his gaze falls upon them, or he finds himself in need of something; their lives outside the narrow space inside his head exist only as muffled details.
  tallpaul | Mar 16, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
The book lacks the bitter taste of some of his recent writing, but it is one of the saddest books I have read in a long while, its tone one of unbroken melancholy.

After an interesting, and courageous, account of his formation as a writer, Naipaul returns to his Wiltshire microcosm, and it turns out that his narrator's exhaustion and turning-towards-death is mirrored in his tiny world...All this is evoked in delicate, precise prose of the highest quality, but it is bloodless prose.
added by tallpaul | editThe Guardian, Salman Rushdie (Mar 13, 1987)
 

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
V. S. Naipaulprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, Rose-MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
In loving memory of my brother SHIVA NAIPAUL
25 February 1945, Port of Spain
13 August 1985, London
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For the first four days it rained.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394757602, Paperback)

The story of a writer's singular journey—from one place to another, from the British colony of Trinidad to the ancient countryside of England, and from one state of mind to another—this is perhaps Naipaul's most autobiographical work. Yet it is also woven through with remarkable invention to make it a rich and complex novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"The autobiographical novel of a journey from the British colony of Trinidad to the ancient countryside of England."--Publisher's description.

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