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The Enigma of Arrival by V. S. Naipaul

The Enigma of Arrival (1987)

by V. S. Naipaul

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
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 |
The Enigma of Arrival is one of V. S. Naipaul's masterpieces. In this autobiographical novel he successfully conveys to the reader the atmosphere of the English countryside through the meditations of the narrator on his original journey from Trinidad to England. Through the mind of the narrator we experience the fictional reality of the world-a world of Naipaul's making. Echoes from both James Joyce and Marcel Proust are visible in the narration of the novel. This seems a quiet book, but it is a powerful one. The book is composed of four sections which reflect the growing familiarity and changing perceptions of Naipaul upon his arrival in various countries after leaving his native Trinidad and Tobago.
Most of the action of the novel takes place in England where Naipaul has rented a cottage in the countryside. The feeling of 'the place' is palpable and the evocation of 'place' is underlined by the physical effects and the history of the people and their artifacts. On first arriving, he sees the area surrounding his cottage as a frozen piece of history, unchanged for hundreds of years. However, as his stay at the cottage where he is working on another book becomes extended, he begins to see the area for what it is: a constantly changing place with ordinary people simply living lives away from the rest of the world. This causes Naipaul to reflect upon the nature of our perceptions of our surroundings and how much these perceptions are affected by our own pre-conceptions of a place.
As he re-examines his own emigration from Trinidad to New York, and his subsequent removal to England and Oxford Naipaul's narration illustrates the growing understanding of his place in this new environment and the intricate relations of the people and the land around them. The result is a magnificent read that is encouragement to savor other novels by this Nobel laureate author. ( )
4 vote jwhenderson | Jul 17, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:06 -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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