Sunday, November 28, 2004

Another sort of novelist would be prone to giving Willie some moment of insight into the shapelessness of his own personality--or perhaps a realization about the course taken by the world over the six decades of his life. Naipaul, however, is never tempted to let his central character do anything but drift. (Even Willie's little moment of waxing philosophical at the close sounds like an evasion of real insight.)

In interviews, Naipaul has indicated that Magic Seeds may be his last book. Finishing it, one has the sense that--in returning to the novel, as if to say a farewell--the author created a kind of scapegoat figure. It is as if Willie were an embodiment of all the anomie that Naipaul had to purge from his system in order to create.

There is a terrible purity to the prose. It is clean and dry, tough but never brittle. Naipaul is pitiless in depicting lies, shame and bad faith. He makes real life look like play-acting--a fiction that nobody really believes. This sounds like misanthropy, and I suppose it is. But when you read Naipaul, it feels like cowardice ever to think otherwise.

-- From Scott McLemee's review of Magic Seeds in today's New York Newsday.

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