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This article is taken from PN Review 130, Volume 26 Number 2, November - December 1999.

V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux Jeffrey Meyers


A writer arrives early at a cocktail party and the hostess says: 'Ved Mehta's in there - go talk to him.' He enters the living room and finds an Indian sitting by himself, staring into space. Remembering with some irritation that Mehta, though blind, is famous for minute descriptions of the people he's interviewed, the writer devises a pragmatic test. He sits unobtrusively next to him and waves his hand in front of Mehta's face. The man doesn't move. Getting more ambitious, he jabs two fingers toward the Indian's eyes. Not a flicker. In desperation the writer pulls out his ears and sticks out his tongue. For all his efforts, the Indian remains as still as a statue. So the writer gets up and strolls toward a new guest. With a self-satisfied air he points out the Indian, sitting impassively on the sofa, and announces in a confidential whisper: 'You know, Ved Mehta really is blind!' To which the guest replies: 'That's not Ved Mehta. It's V.S. Naipaul.'

Naipaul's personality is enshrined in this story: his touchy, irritable pride; his aloof, secretive, hyper-fastidious caution. He wouldn't deign to recognize the existence of the ass jabbing the air with his fingers, but if he did he would be devastating. By reputation he is unpredictable, badtempered and cruel, with an acid tongue. A Trinidadian Indian, from a minority within an already marginal society, Naipaul is one of the greatest living writers. Like his predecessor, the ...

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