The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul
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The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  257 ratings  ·  62 reviews
The first major biography of V.S. Naipaul, the controversial and enigmatic Nobel laureate: a stunning writer whose only stated ambition was greatness, in pursuit of which goal nothing else was sacred.

Beginning in rich detail in Trinidad, where Naipaul was born into an Indian family, Patrick French skillfully examines Naipaul’s life within a displaced community and his fie...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published November 3rd 2009 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2008)
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Paul
How do you solve a problem like Naipaul? I’ll stop the Sound of Music references straight away; but this will be a difficult review to write. Naipaul is a Nobel laureate and is certainly one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Notably irascible and difficult to pin down. Accused of a great deal, including racism and imperialism; more British than the British, a fan of Margaret Thatcher. He wrote some great novels and a good deal of reportage from his extensive travelling. He was an ac...more
Lawrence
Upon finishing this book, these are the words I whispered to myself: "What a fucking bastard."

Here's how good Patrick French is: I knew exactly, exactly what was going to happen in the last twenty pages, because French had defined Naipaul's character so indelibly by that point. Yet those twenty pages still managed to draw tears.

French has assembled an amazing book: meticulous reporting, gripping writing, and one of the most fascinating writers' lives I've ever looked into this deeply. Readers w...more
Tony
French, Patrick. THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS. The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul. (2008). ***. About 200 pages into this 500-page biography of Naipaul, I decided that I was no longer interested in knowing any more about him. Although deftly written by French, using all of the available sources, you think of the old saying: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” I have only read – I think – three of Naipaul’s books, all of which were excellent. When it comes to the man himself, howe...more
Jonfaith
What a shitbag! Naipaul thrives on being a controversialist. This is sage. The author finds the soft areas in our hypocrisies about race and nation states. Naipaul exploits such. Quoting Mr. French, Naipaul's prose remains pellucid. His incorporation of these anxieties is an achievement. The Nobel Laureate's manipulation of such is well past the suspect.

I have yet to broach the personal life of Vidia. Not to wax sensationalist, I couldn’t make up this shit.
Sam Schulman
I've written a piece on French's book together with Michael Slater's Dickens and Andrew Motion's Philiip Larkin at Templeton's InCharacter.org called
Goodish Writers, Bad-ish Men.

We have many goodish writers in this country, but few great ones, and V.S. Naipaul is a great writer." - A.N. Wilson

Everyone knows one thing about the life of Charles Dickens: the trauma of his childhood stung him into bestsellerdom. The 12-year-old boy whose parents were imprisoned for debt and who toiled in Warren's...more
John
It must be difficult to write the biography of a writer of V. S. Naipaul's caliber. No living writer in the English language surpasses him in sheer talent, and I am hard-pressed to think of an equal. A reader familiar with Naipaul's flawless prose and witheringly cruel personal observations will inevitably expect similar talent from the writer's biographer. And if Patrick French does not here deliver the impossible, he at least comes close.

The purely literary difficulties are compounded by the...more
Cnap
This confirmed what I suspected from reading Naipaul all these years and that is that he is an extremely insecure and nervous person who is brilliant at critically picking everything apart. He is able to spot flaws and would be characterized as the teacher who groans with pleasure when finding a mistake on a paper, then feels deep but temporary satisfaction when the red pen makes a big check mark.

I feel sympathy for him, also. He is a skinny little black man who made his way in a big white man's...more
Greta Nettleton
Author Patrick French has created a tour de force portrait of a great writer whose worldly success and emotional vulnerabilities eventually combined to push him off the deep end as a human being. I read this book for a chance to revisit the fine work that I remember admiring so much when I started to read Naipaul in college in the late 1970s (at the suggestion of a friend and fellow Duke student from Mexico City). A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, The Return of Eva Peron--I still have...more
Lyn
Patrick French had full cooperation from Naipaul in writing this warts and all biography. Naipaul is a great writer and a famously difficult person ... that he would so liberally expose himself , his correspondence, as well as the diaries of his first wife underscores his unsentimental respect for evidence (for me the foundation of his non-fiction works). The Naipaul family, early education, Trinidadian and Indian (Hindu) antecedents make an engaging story ... the outcome (including a Nobel Priz...more
Andrew
A lot has been made of how frank this biography is. It’s certainly true that V.S. Naipaul gave his biographer Patrick French access to a huge amount of material, including things that other people would have tried to keep quiet about. For example the racism, the bigotry, the use of prostitutes, the affairs, the betrayals, the occasional violence, the perpetual cruelty. Yes, this is a very frank biography.

But what impressed me most about the book is how French succeeded in making Naipaul into a c...more
Mark
The book is excellently written, compelling and shocking in equal measure and a painful reminder of the trauma inflicted on a child of the post colonial racial confusion and colour/class consciousness still painfully evident in Trinidadian society. It achieves this through the recounting of the legendary, pathetic, tragic - albeit prolific - life of VS Naipaul. The book left me with my dilemma over Naipaul fully intact. French quotes Linton Kwesi Johnson on Naipaul 'He's a living example of how...more
Darryl
Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V.S.) Naipaul (1932-), the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of the most highly regarded authors of the 20th century. He was born in Trinidad, and his ancestors were part of the Indian migration to this Caribbean island in the 19th century. He was awarded a scholarship to Oxford in 1950, where he met his wife, the former Patricia Hale. After his graduation he dedicated his life to becoming a writer, and was financially supported by Pat during his early...more
Tasha
May 14, 2009 Tasha rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of Naipaul's work
Shelves: 2009
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Warren
Jan 06, 2009 Warren marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-list-2009
Starred Review. V.S. Naipaul's biographer aims not to sit in judgment of the Nobel laureate, but to expose the subject with ruthless clarity to the calm eye of the reader. In this he succeeds admirably. Descendant of poor Brahmins, born in 1932 in Trinidad and educated in Oxford, Naipaul is haunted by matters of race, colonialism and sex. He is, says award-winning author French (Younghusband), both the racist (against those darker than he) and the victim of racial prejudice, tendencies that come...more
Raghu
This book is a brilliant tribute to one of the greatest writers in English of the past few decades. The narrative pace is good and it is gripping to read. When I finished the book, I thought it is a 'four star' book; but then on reflection, I felt that it was lacking in a few qualities and hence I ended up with one star less.
Vidia Naipaul emerges as a very complicated persona - narcissistic, intellectually brilliant, insensitive, original thinker, selfish and honest. In his own words, Naipaul wr...more
Stephanie
This was and continued to be a bit of slow start -- first you seemingly learned about each sugar cane stalk in Trinidad, each newspaper article written by Naipaul, each letter written to each person in his life, and then finally every final detail about his long-suffering (physically and mentally) wife's death.

In the end what I learned is that Naipaul, one of my favorite writers (read A Bend in the River), is really a jerk. He's self-absorbed, masochistic (internally and at times, sexually), re...more
Sesh
I don't generally read biographies, but this one I could not pass on. I am not a fan of V.S. Naipaul's writing. I could only manage to finish one book of his, "A House for Mr. Biswas". But when I read Paul Theroux's account of is friendship with Naipaul ("Sir Vidia's Shadow") I was intrigued. Naipaul was portrayed as selfish, brilliant, obstinate, proud, unfeeling, shocking, and more. How could you not want to know more about him? French charts Naipaul's personal life through all of its ups and...more
Jane E
What an unpleasant man. What a pity given how well he writes and the broad nature of his literary tastes. It might have been better not to know quite so much about the man. Paul Theroux comes off even worse. This book was purchased in Pashigat, Arunachul Pradesh, a tiny and remote town. Who would think they had a dozen book stands. It proved a great filler for the down time there always is when traveling.
Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers were mostly astounded that such a good writer as V. S. Naipaul could be such a horrible person. Though he has always been known as prickly, critics seemed to compete for new adjectives to describe the man who emerges in this book. Michael Dirda's list: "whiney, narcissistic, insulting, needy, callous, impolite, cruel, vengeful, indecisive, miserly, exploitative, snobbish, sadistic, self-pitying and ungrateful." Patrick French, by contrast, earned quite positive labels for his well-writ

...more
Wilhelm Weber
Fascinating how this man becomes a novelist - its hard work on his part all the way up from school and through his college and university years and it seems he was always more driven, than in control. He never really seems to enjoy anything, needs to write and does this and that to experiment. Tragically insecure, unbalanced and without a hold on life, but still very much dominating other people. Especially those who love him. He does have a unique view on things and Patrick French paints a pict...more
Robert Boyd
This is an authorized biography, but it hardly seems like a whitewash. When I first heard about it, it sounded as if Naipaul were attempting to counteract the negative press he got due to Paul Theroux's In Sir Vidia's Shadow. But the Naipaul in this book is just as bad--worse even--than the one in Theroux's book.

Indeed, Naipaul comes of a little like Celine; a great writer and a terrible person.

As I read it, it made me want to go back a reread some of my favorite Naipaul books--A House for Mr. B...more
Katie
Fans of Naipaul's work - or those interested in other writers grappling with post-colonial identities - will enjoy this biography. It is well-researched and in-depth, but also interesting and an enjoyable read. While I came away liking Naipul less than before, particularly with regards to his treatment towards his wife, I also came away with a greater appreciation of his work and his struggles in life. This book really made me think about what it takes to be a great artist - author, painter, or...more
Valentina
How can such a talented writer, insightful on all things human, canny observer of the world, restless traveler, also be such a self-centered, self-righteous, self-indulging man with little respect for anything or anyone? If you've been searching for the ultimate book on evil meet genius, look no further...This biography of Nobel Prize winning, Trinidad-born, English author of Indian descent V.S. Naipaul is an absolute masterpiece, for how it traces its subject life story, paralleling it with tha...more
Pat
This book was well-written and it shows Sir Vidia with all of his warts, of which there are very many. However, Naipaul is just such an odious character that I couldn't stay interested in his life. He treated his first wife just abysmally. He carried on an affair for 23 years of his marriage and, as soon as his first wife died, he dropped the mistress and married another woman many years younger than him. While there are some of his books that I have liked, especially some of the early ones, I j...more
Willa
Apr 19, 2009 Willa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Willa by: NY Times Book Review
V.S. Naipaul was an unpleasant man who led a fascinating literary life. Determined to be a writer he made use of his Trinidad birth, his Indian background and his life in England in stories and novels. This is a well-written biography that doesn't avoid its subject's shortcomings and warts; the interesting part of it is the history of the times and places when he lived, the people he met. Naipaul himself was intolerant and petty; I wish they'd never awarded him the Nobel Prize.
Dan Oko
An extraordinary account of the life of an extraordinary author. You won't like Naipaul anybody for having read French's insightful study of his life and work. If, as the Modern Lovers used to say, nobody ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole; the same cannot be said of Naipaul.

Check my Austin Chronicle review here:
Patrick
The beginning of the book, and even the first half or maybe three quarters is really interesting, but the last bit just sort of turns into a laundry list of all the things Naipaul has done that make him a horrible bastard. Whether this is wholly accurate, or simply how P. French chose to portray him (Naipaul requested no changes upon reading a manuscript, so it's doubtful that it's too misleading on Naipaul's character), it doesn't make for very enjoyable reading.
Holly
So far, engrossing. I love Naipaul's work and continue to be fascinated by his misanthropic behavior, apparent self-loathing and egotism, bigotry, and magic way with language.

August -- OK, I am still reading this. It's very rich and -- for me -- needs to be ingested in doses. Lots of heavy stuff about Naipaul's twisted relationship with the Argentina woman, sad stuff about his wife Pat (which makes me both frustrated about her and sympathetic), etc.
Abby
From reviews in the New Yorker and the NY Times Book Review, I had expected a critical expose that would illuminate Naipaul, warts and all. While the biography is detailed, well-researched, and for the most part, even-handed, the biographer cannot fail to conceal an admiration for the Nobel Laureate that limits his ability to analyze or to criticize Naipaul's misanthropic actions.
Sarad Pradhan
‘The World is What it is’ is a window to the world of Naipaul- a big world that transcends many lives and works of common writers. Perhaps, The World is What it is gives more than what we generally expect to know about a writer. But to understand Naipaul, as Vinod Mehta says we have to read his books –the only way to fathom his complexity, his creativity, his megalomania.
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Patrick French (born 1966) is a British writer and historian, based in London. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh where he studied English and American literature.

French is the author of several books including : Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (1994), a biography of Francis Younghusband, The World Is What It Is (2008), an authorized biography of Nobel Laureate V.S Nai...more
More about Patrick French...
India: A Portrait Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer Liberty or Death: India's Journey to Independence and Division Dreams and Memories of a Lost Land

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