Though I’d oftentimes skip prologues, I’d also discovered their importance. In this instance, however, I wished I’d resorted to my old ways since it revealed the novel’s outcome and resulted in distracted reading.
Set in Trinidad, we meet the hapless Mr. Biswas whose humanity is so bare as to embarrass the reader. Whether caring for a calf, studying, apprenticing as a pundit, or painting signs, failure seems to be the consistent outcome. Ironically, as a journalist, he succeeds, albeit, never getting rich nor famous, but finally able to support himself and his family.
Mohun Biswas, an Indo Trinidadian is “born the wrong way” with six fingers and the prophesies of a pundit predict that he will be a “spendthrift, a lecher and possibly a liar”. The pundit also warns that he be kept away from water which is the prophesy unheeded with dire results.
Mr. Biswas is uncomfortably human and not a likable character. The young Mohun hides out after the calf in his care is found drowned and his father dives in looking for his son, but does not resurface. There were many more troublesome incidents throughout the book that again revealed a man never to be revered. His lifelong quest for independence through home ownership is eventually fulfilled, but not long-lived.
Mohun’s wife, Shama is a member of the overbearing Tulsi family. She accepts her resentful husband as she accepts her meddling relatives, without question. Her martyrdom is irksome and instead of sucking her teeth, I prayed she would slap her husband in the back of his head.
The matriarch, Mrs. Tulsi plays her family like a finely tuned instrument. She can be generous, she can be uncaring, but her family must surround her for they are what gives meaning to her life. Subtle hints at a deeper persona never quite revealed her true essence.
Ramchand, the husband of Mohun’s sister was the only likable character among a cast of many. He was generous, honest and while he accepted his lot in life, made the life he was dealt, the absolute best it could be.
The sheer volume of Mr. Naipaul’s work so impressed me that I’d love to ask how he managed to produce such quantity. He is, thus far, the second living author from the Modern Library list, however, what I’ve read of his recent comments regarding women left me quite disdainful. Other tidbits gleaned after reading A House for Mr. Biswas were rather disturbing and I wish it false, but fear it is truth. Below from Wiki;
Naipaul attracted media controversy with statements about women he made in a May 2011 interview at the Royal Geographic Society, expressing his view that women’s writing was inferior to men’s, and that there was no female writer whom he would consider his equal. Naipaul stated that women’s writing was “quite different”, reflecting women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”. He had previously criticised leading female Indian authors writing about the legacy of colonialism for the “banality” of their work.
My rating for A House for Mr. Biswas is an 8 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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