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The Enigma of Arrival by V. S. Naipaul

The Enigma of Arrival (1987)

by V. S. Naipaul

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul is an extremely nostalgic book that makes you question where and what is home. The book was published in the year of my birth, 1987, and has had several covers. This cover, with the wintery road is perhaps my favourite because I feel like it really captures the essence of the book. And too be honest, I’m a sucker for good cover art. That whole judging-a-book-by-its-cover thing is slightly askew for me.

The story is set in five main parts and jumps backwards and forwards throughout time. Naipaul is able to blend past sorrows with bitter sweet tomorrows in The Enigma of Arrival. If you have spent a lot of time away from your home country, or are still far away from what you call home then this is a book that will speak to you.

The book is in many ways a sad pastoral about the narrator’s experiences in the English countryside. It is also about seeing the world differently throughout different times in your life. Weather and geography play a huge part in the development of the story and of the characters. I imagined the descriptions of the English countryside painted in water colour and tinged with a longing much bigger than just missing home.

Naipaul, rather beautifully, manages to show the contrasts of leaving and coming, remembering and forgetting, and connectedness and disconnection. Naipaul shows the difference of reality versus expectation with sometimes brutal honesty and poetry. I can highly recommend this book to any reader, but be warned: this book will leave you with a nostalgia that will take over your heart.

“The river was called the Avon; not the one connected with Shakespeare. Later – when the land had more meaning, when it had absorbed more of my life than the tropical street where I had grown up – I was able to think of the flat wet fields with the ditches as ‘water meadows’ or ‘wet meadows’, and the low smooth hills in the background, beyond the river, as ‘downs’. But just then, after the rain, all that I saw – though I had been living in England for twenty years – were flat fields and a narrow river.” ( )
  bound2books | Feb 12, 2017 |
This seems both an ode to depression and death and may well be the first of the endless modern novels that insist on the right to include an indelible image of cruelty to animals.

Will men never end their hideous cruelties?

Will writers never end their need to horrify us? ( )
  m.belljackson | Jul 16, 2016 |
I found Naipaul's writing to be fascinating and inspiring at the same time. This book starts out slow and there is not much happening but there is a lot of detailed description and you begin to realize how Naipaul sees the common everyday experiences as something beautiful and not so common. His writing flows and is very easy to understand. He describes all the characters in such detail and is very aware of all their behaviors and psychological tendencies. Even without a basic plot, Naipul's command of language keeps the reader turning the pages. This book was definitely worth the effort as it is truly a rare and beautiful book and I look forward to reading more by this remarkable writer. ( )
  EadieB | Jan 19, 2016 |
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. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (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 editionscalculated
Nielsen, Rose-MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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)

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"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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