by V. S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad) Naipaul

Reviewer Rating:
5
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Review

There is something unsettling about laughing at someone else's misfortunes but sometimes we can't help ourselves. The novel A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul puts the reader into this situation on a regular basis: the work is funny because of the pathetic situation of the protagonist, Mr Biswas.  While this type of humor can be inappropriate in real-life, Naipaul uses humor to deepen, expand, and cement the relationship between Mr Biswas and the reader.  Mr Biswas' immaturity, pride, short-sightedness, and gullibility are highlighted more than his artistic skills, his originality, and his (wavering) desire to be a good father.  Because the wretchedness in Mr Biswas is treated with humor, however, we are not only better able to tolerate it, but actually begin to relate to it.  It is when the reader laughs at Mr Biswas that she not only gets to know him, but learns to deeply care for him.

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Comments

I have read and reread this book many times over the years and on the surface it appears that it is a funny look at the lives of Indo Trinidadians. Upon close examination one sees that Naipaul is poking fun at his forebears. He seems to find everything about them risible: their customs, their attempts to hold onto tradition (look at the Tulsi family and the way that they endeavor to send their sons to the best Catholic school despite they themselves being staunch Hindus) etc. It is no wonder that Naipaul himself has immigrated to the UK and lives the life of an English gentleman. As a Trinidadian myself I find that a bit unsettling but still revel in the fact that he is one of the few sons of the soil to have won the Nobel Prize for literature.

That's an important observation, and I think you're right -- but I also think that in this novel, Naipaul pokes fun at everyone. The mockery seems to be more a part of the writing's tone than a message about Trinidad.

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