Review

Literary Occasions: Essays

by V.S. Naipaul



A companion volume to THE WRITER AND THE WORLD, LITERARY OCCASIONS
collects ten essays by Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul. The
book is divided into two major sections that are bookended by a not
so very enlightening prologue by editor Pankaj Mishra and Naipaul's
Nobel Lecture from 2001. The first section is made up of essays in
which Naipaul examines his own writing career and the life events
that have influenced it. The essays in the second section examine
the writing of others including Nirad Chaudhuri, Rudyard Kipling
and Joseph Conrad.

While Naipaul is a perceptive reader with a sharp critical eye,
unless one has a particular interest in the writers he considers in
the essays found in the second part of LITERARY OCCASIONS, the
pieces may not be particularly gripping. However, the essays in the
first portion of the collection should be of interest to any
Naipaul fan, as well as to those with a general interest in where
writers find inspiration.

Naipaul, best known for his early novel A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS, was
born in 1932 in Trinidad. His family was part of an Indian
community on the small Caribbean island that was a part of the
British Empire. For Naipaul, his life as an Indian far from India
and subject to British rule in either place seemed to hinder him as
a writer.

"I might adapt Dickens to Trinidad; but it seemed impossible that
the life I knew in Trinidad could ever be turned into a book," he
wrote in a 1964 essay titled "Jasmine." "If landscapes do not start
to be real until they have been interpreted by an artist, so, until
they have been written about, societies appear to be without shape
and embarrassing. But no writer, however individual his vision,
could be separated from this society."

Naipaul details his efforts to create a literature for a society
that had no existing literary tradition to build upon. He also
explores his father's life as a newspaper reporter working for a
maverick editor and how his father's work as a writer sparked his
desire to become an author. At times the essays are repetitive, but
taken together they create a compelling portrait of a major author
at work and the sources of that work. Best read by those familiar
with Naipaul's fiction, LITERARY OCCASIONS provides a unique window
into the interior life at the heart of its creation.

Reviewed by Rob Cline (Rob__Cline@hotmail.com) on January 22, 2011

Literary Occasions: Essays
by V.S. Naipaul

  • Publication Date: August 10, 2004
  • Genres: Essays
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1400031303
  • ISBN-13: 9781400031306