Naipaul as Hatchet Man
Sanjay Subrahmanyam on a new book of essays by VS Naipaul: A Writer’s People: Ways of Looking and Feeling
. . . Naipaul began his writing career in England after getting a degree from Oxford (where he had been sent on a scholarship from Trinidad in 1950). In 1957, Naipaul was befriended by Anthony Powell, who helped set his literary career on a firm footing. After Powell’s death in 2000 at the age of 94, Naipaul was asked by the editor of an unnamed literary weekly to write about him. Naipaul notes that in spite of their long friendship he was not acquainted with most of Powell’s work, and adds, characteristically: ‘It may be that the friendship lasted all this time because I had not examined his work.’ When he began to read Powell, he ‘was appalled . . . There was no narrative skill, perhaps even no thought for narrative.’ The indictment presented as an exercise in fairness, precision and truth-telling, continues for page after page. There is again a hint of condescension; it turns out that Powell’s book reviews were at least better than his fiction.