Sunday, January 18, 2004

During a distinguished lifetime of an almost priest-like devotion to English prose, he has been celebrated for three things: first, his extraordinary way with the English sentence; second, his inheritance of, and complex dialogue with, Joseph Conrad's vision; and third, an intense, admirable hoarding of himself, the rocket-fuel of his fiction....

He has also magically translated his singular personal history into a series of mesmerising novels while, like the greatest writers, contriving to float free from an over-identification with his material.

To those for whom these three aspects of Naipaul's life and work are as mysterious as they are enthralling, his latest volume of essays, from four decades of literary endeavour, splendidly edited and introduced by Pankaj Mishra, comes as a timely Enigma machine in the decoding of Naipaul's complex reports from the front line of his battles with existence.

-- From Robert McCrum's review of Naipaul's Literary Occasions in today's UK Observer.

Also in the Observer book pages: Stephanie Merritt's review of Loving Che, a novel by Ana Menéndez (reviewed last week by Timothy Peters in the San Francisco Chronicle).

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