A House For Mr Biswas
by V S Naipaul
Category: Fiction / General
590 pages; ISBN: 0-14-118283-0
Rating: 6/10 (Ratings explained)
"A House For Mr Biswas" is one of V S Naipaul's earlier novels set amongst Trinidad's Indian community in the first half of the last century.
Mr Biswas is loosely based on Naipaul's father and this long sprawling novel covers his whole life from ill-starred birth to early death.I am unclear as to how biographical it actually is but the rambling see-saw nature of the narrative does suggest it is largely based on fact.
The title derives from the hero's unceasing quest to end his sense of being uprooted by having a house he can call his own. He is obstructed all the way through the novel by his wife's family the Tulsis whose religious conservatism and communal ideas he despises.Although Biswas changes residence about six times in the ccourse of the book he can never quite escape from them.
Although Naipaul clearly sympathises with his hero it's not always easy for the reader to concur.Biswas is self-indulgent,demanding his wife bring him a tin of salmon just after being beaten up by one of his many brothers-in-law for throwing his dinner out of the window.He is indolent, always looking for a short cut to success (like Eric Pollard in Emmerdale) whether it's getting a lawyer to chase his debts for him, falling for a journalism course scam or even imagining that a few well-written letters will open doors for him. His ingratitude and supercilious attitude to the Tulsis who imagine they are doing their best for him is repellent. Worst of all is his attitude towards women. He neglects and despises his mother and how his wife puts up with his insults and complete lack of concern for the position in which his behaviour puts her is anyone's guess.
Parts of this book are very good but it is far too long.Naipaul often gets bogged down in tedious detail on the construction of Biswas's houses and the invariably slipshod nature of his furniture. Too many of his little vignettes don't go anywhere - another indication that he's chronicling true events rather than constructing a novel.At one point the family move to an estate called Shorthills which Naipaul unwisely refers to as "the Shorthills adventure" only emphasising that it could be cut out without detriment to the book.By the time you get to the last chapter you don't realise that it's basically a repeat of the first!
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