3 February 2010

Reading "A House For Mr Biswas"

V S Naipul is one of the world's famous writers of post-colonial fiction, which is to say he comes from a country that used to be a colony. A lot of us live in countries like that. Mr Biswas is an Indian living in an Indian community in Trinidad, as far as I can tell - Port au Spain gets mentioned sometimes, in the Caribbean.

The story starts with his death in his house, and there is an emphasis on how poor the house is and how important its possession is to Mr Biswas. The story then takes us back to his birth, which was inauspicious. Here, it is strange reading of a baby still referred to as "Mr Biswas". He was an unlucky child, which is to say that it was foretold that he would be a bringer of bad luck. At first, this seemed to be true. Given the care of a neighbour's calf, on which much of this poor person's economic future depended, he let it stray and it fell in a river and drowned. He hid, but the community believed that he had drowned and, while diving for his body, his father drowned.

So far, Mr Biswas' life seems to be like that. He has some good luck, such as a talent and a business in sign-writing, but he knows so little of the way that people behave that he keeps stumbling into unwanted situations. In fact, he stumbled into marriage largely, as he himself was aware, he didn't like to say no. These bits of 'embarrassment stories', if I may call them back, cause me to stop reading from time to time because I feel I can't take it. My empathy factor just doesn't want to go there. However, after a day or two I find that I haven't forgotten him but become worried about him, and then I have to pick the book up again to find out what happened next.

At the moment I've stopped again because he is clearly about to be set up by someone in order to make an attack on another business. Clearly, this is not going to go well.

Talk about slow reading.


Morva Shepley

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