The NYT reviews Magic Seeds, V.S. Naipaul’s sequel to Half a Life. Naipaul’s protagonist Willie Chandran join a pointless communist group in India, a metaphor for the reign of Marxists in the author’s native Caribbean:
Willie is the latest exemplar of a type familiar to Naipaul’s readers: the fanatical idealist drawn to… “socialist mimicry.” Cheddi B. Jagan, the orthodox Marxist who rose to become prime minister of Guyana; Michael X, the black power leader who ends up a murderer in Trinidad… Naipaul is infuriated by their charade, the fraudulent progressive ideology that masks their will to power.
Chandran is eventually disabused of his fuzzy-minded notions. Naipaul also mocks hopes for a postracial society, and not gently:
Willie attends the wedding of the half-English son of Marcus, a West African diplomat “who lived for interracial sex, and wanted to have a white grandchild.” The groom, Lyndhurst (“very English,” Roger comments dryly), is marrying a white woman, a union that will result in the culmination of Marcus’s dream. The wedding takes place at a grand house fallen into dereliction in the English countryside. A passage from Othello is read, an “Aruba-Curacao” band plays…. just as the mixed-race couple is about to exchange vows, one of the children they’ve had out of wedlock audibly passes gas, no one is certain which: “But the guests lined up [with political correctness] on this matter: the dark people thought the dark child” had done it; “the fair people thought it was the fair child.”
The reviewer finds the Nobel Prize winner in need of an editor:
Magic Seeds is a lazy book. Gone is even the pretext of narrative art or plausible dialogue. The characters hold forth as if they’re in a Diderot play… The sex scenes are ghastly… Naipaul dwells in alarming detail on the precise anatomical convolutions… why is anal sex such a literary preoccupation these days?… Henry Miller he’s not.
In unwitting tribute, the reviewer adopts Naipaul’s own astringent tone and fires at his pompousness:
Last month he made the public announcement at a speech in New Delhi that his new novel, Magic Seeds, may be his last. “I am really quite old now,” he said, turning his biblical span into premature senescence… And because V. S. Naipaul will no longer write novels, the genre must die. “I have no faith in the survival of the novel. It is almost over. The world has changed and people do not have the time to give that a book requires.”
Here’s a previous post on Naipaul and Trinidad.
Update: Michiko Kakutani slays and fillets.
[L]ess a full-fledged novel than a didactic thesis featuring characters who deliver speeches instead of conversation… The book should have been written as a series of essays or op-ed pieces, not poorly disguised as a would-be work of fiction…
The revolutionaries condescendingly describe the peasants as “cricket people, matchstick people,” whose “minds have gone after the centuries of malnourishment.”… Mr. Naipaul’s contempt for all the people he has created in this novel makes for a mean, stingy book…