Like both Maugham and Greene, Naipaul was a monster. But in addition to Mr. Genesh’s essay read V.S. Pritchett’s review of ‘The Mimic Men’ and ‘A Flag on the Island’ from the April 11, 1968 New York Review of Books. The first paragraph demonstrates Pritchett’s mastery:
Among the younger English novelists Mr. V. S. Naipaul is a virtuoso. A brilliant chameleon from the Caribbean, the descendant of Hindu immigrants, he has grown into the English novel with more lasting assurance than almost all contemporaries in the West Indies or Africa who are in the same case. This has not been achieved by intelligence and education alone; nor by the fact that the West Indies were, in many respects, a very fertilizing Victorian enclave. His advantage is that he shares with many English novelists natural and serious feeling for the fantasy life of his characters. This was obvious in the rich comi-tragedy of Mr. Biswas; also in his one purely English novel, Mr. Stone and the Knight’s Companion, in which he made a careful study of the “little man” and pushed forward the tradition of Pooter, Polly, and the Napoleon of Notting Hill into regions that were more exposed and dangerous, without falling into pastiche or charm. There are poor dogged little clerks all over the world, and Mr. Naipaul, who is above all a diagnostician in his comedy, brought a piercing West Indian eye to what was either a Russian or a London subject. After their first success with their native scene, most African, Indian, or West Indian novelists who have made the emotionally and politically disrupting journey to Oxford or London run aground on the shallows of journalistic writing: assertion and loneliness coarsen them. Everything becomes, crudely, a problem. Mr. Naipaul has had the sensibility and the stamina to avoid this. He feels his pain, but he is in command. His latest novel is a resourceful, compassionate, intensely critical and imaginative statement of a colonial crack-up, but not a bald and impersonal one. It is put together ingeniously as a mosaic of recurring themes.
V.S. Pritchett was one of the great critics of his age! Mr. Ganesh workman like essay can’t quite match the insights offered by a writer and critic who had mastered both forms.
Thank you for your comment.
‘I certainly was not expecting this comment from you…’
I can only ponder what you mean by this? Although it doesn’t deserve the time nor the space.
‘… a review furthermore that praises him in rather old-fashioned terms.’
Mr. Pritchett essay remains what it is, not just an insightful exercise in literary criticism, but a paradigmatic exercise in the essay form! That has aged not just well, but represents what that endeavor can mean to a reader: every writer deserves a critic who can exercise this kind of literary evaluation, against the background of a tradition. Aided by the vast reading an actual critic can draw upon.
Mr. Ganesh’s gift for caustically framed Tory Hipster political commentary, does not fit with the imperatives of the literary critic.
On the question of Balzac, I’ve read these Penguin Classics: Lost Illusions, Cousin Bette, The Wild Ass’s Skin and found them worthy of my time. His work is a part of our literary tradition, that places his accomplishments with Hugo and Dickens.
I’ve read most of Graham Green’s novels and found even his ‘entertainments’ worthy of praise. For his economy of expression -for me this bring into sharper focus ,what Sartre attempted to explore in his ‘Roads to Freedom’ cycle, in sum, the existential dilemmas of post war humanity, to put it in highfalutin terms.
Look to EnglishRose’s valuable comment, that points to the intrinsic value, indeed necessity, of reading across the span of the history, of writing itself and our engagement with that tradition, as alive to those willing to engage with it.
‘Put differently. what would a modern Naipaul write about and how would he or she write it? Any thoughts?
Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra are the two novelists and essayists, writing today, who are the most trenchant critics of the Colonial Project’s abysmal failure and its political/intellectual/moral legacy. They attack with cogency the idea and practice of Western Hegemony as foundational to the ‘Rationalism’ tout court.