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Half a Life

3.23 of 5 stars 3.23  ·  rating details  ·  2,340 ratings  ·  230 reviews
Willy Chandran's father married a low caste woman, and soon came to loathe the sight of her. From this unhappy union, Willy and his sister were born. It is from here that 'Half A Life' takes off as we follow Willy's journey to find a place in the world.
Paperback, 227 pages
Published September 1st 2002 by Picador USA (first published January 1st 2001)
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Jul 26, 2007 Martin rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Naipaul fans
It does what it does well and not much else. Not a great way to explain it but if you read it you will understand. We follow the exceptionally uneventful life of Willie as he tries to discover himself and find a path to walk down. I found him to be spineless and became quite bored watching him float through life being led by his lust most of the time like so many male characters in so many other(better written) books. But then, the language reflects his life, nothing much exciting going on. Havi ...more
Quite unremarkable. I haven’t read anything else by Naipaul, and I probably won’t. I know I shouldn’t generalize from reading one book, but I do anyway. Methinks Naipaul is another mediocre Nobel laureate. (Jelinek and Mahfouz are the other examples that come immediately to my mind.) The protagonist is insufferably unlikable, boring, and passive. (At least Jelinek has a sick imagination and manages to make you hate her monstrous characters.) As for the writing – honestly, I think you’ll find bet ...more
Sadly I wasn't impressed.

Well.. I don't really say "Meh" but it is fitting so it will be used here.
This is the last book to complete my reading challenge for 2014 and I had hoped to finish out with a bang of a book. This is not it. I picked it because I was curious and I also thought it might be a quick read. Quick, yes. Curious? I was at first. I was flying through. Have you ever read that book that is a page turner until maybe the halfway point and then it takes a turn for the wor
Half a Life, published a decade ago, is another one of Naipaul's spare, brooding tales that focuses on the lack of identity--cultural identity, really--that characterizes modern life. The novel begins with a kind of joke. Willie Chandran was so named for W. Somerset Maughm who once met Willie's confused father, a silent holy man in India. This brought Willie no luck, however. Maughm wrote about the father, but he never expressed interest in helping Willie, not even when Willie showed up in Londo ...more
David Lentz
I read this novel as the search for and acceptance of the essence of one's true identity. This is a quest upon which Naipaul himself, no doubt, embarked, after his birth in Trinidad, education in England at Oxford, and life in Africa. The challenge of his protagonist is, having been born a "backwards", to understand and accept his real essence as a human being. He tends to approach this existential task by entangling himself in the lives of other people only to find that their lives bring him no ...more
When NY Times reviewer John Chamberlain panned Green Hills of Africa he noted the dialogue, so poetically functional in Hemingway's other major works, was simplified almost to a style of self parody. Instead of being employed as a tool to develop the international cast of characters, everyone from an illiterate local gun bearers to a cosmopolitan German fanboy talks like an imitation of the hero from "A Farewell to Arms."

Half a Life, is similarly pared away. You have the features of a V.S. Naip
This didn't make much of an impression on me –I expected more. The most compelling bit is the story of Willie’s father, not so much of Willie himself. Willie’s father is a man who goes along with the flow of things because he is remarkably mediocre, below average perhaps. Trying to break the tedium and prove himself worthy, he makes a ‘noble’ decision to marry outside his caste, a decision which turns out to be all talk and no substance because he isn’t able to, nor does he genuinely try to, rid ...more
This is an unusual novel. There's no actual plot; instead, the story follows a man through his restless, aimless life. I know this doesn't sound very compelling, but it is--his desire for more--to figure out where he belongs and what he should be doing to create meaning in his life--is crushing.

The structure cleverly echoes this vacancy. After following the character closely for 120 pages, you suddenly encounter this terrifying line: "He stayed for eighteen years." And then the narrativ
Coperta a patra ne ademenește: “Jumătate de viaţă de V.S. Naipaul spune povestea captivantă a lui Willie Chandran…” și ne simțim obligați să subliniem că această apreciere este o gogoașă sfruntată. Povestea jumătății de viață a lui Willie (William Somerset) Chandran este exact opusul captivantului, și dacă am putea înțelege ironia autorului și nevoia lui de a-și îndrepta atenția și scrisul către un personaj cu totul neinteresant, brodând 250 de pagini despre jumătatea lui de viață neinteresantă, ...more
naipaul is BRUTUAL! many people are critical of his unsympathetic and even accusatory attitude towards citizens of undeveloped countries... but he's got something valid to say and it's worth hearing. this semi-autobiographical work explains how one can be both vulnerable and responsible. in other words, power is not only to be claimed by the wealthy. it's up for grabs.
Khris Sellin
I came across this book when I was looking at the OTHER Half a Life, and I had heard of V.S. Naipaul but never read any of his work so picked this one up.

It may have helped me if I'd read his earlier stuff to understand this story completely. The main character, Willie Somerset Chandran, is born (in the 1930s) of a marriage between a Brahmin father and Untouchable mother. From the beginning of his life, he felt he did not belong. (Cue Cher's "Half Breed" here. Kidding!)

He heads to London for col
In this book, Naipaul displays his talent for portraying genuine characters and getting us to sincerely sympathize with them, and thus suffer with them as a consequence of their weakness. The sickness of family, social, national, ethnic, and cultural relationships are all on display, and no one is spared from the low-simmering misery and spiritual oppression that appears to be the universal human condition, at least as perceived from the subjective view of the protagonist. But he wouldn't put it ...more
This is the first novel by Naipaul that I have ever read. In fact, I don’t remember having heard of him before my book club chose this book. The first part of the book left me a bit cold and bored, but suddenly something clicked and I realized it was really a very passionate and even funny novel. Everyone in this novel is pretending to be something they are not. There is a lot about being a stranger in a strange land; Naipaul really captures how it feels to be an expat and the way living in anot ...more
Sometime in the late 90s Sir Vidia declared that the novel as we know it is dead. It has been supplanted by other forms of entertainment. And soon after he comes out with ‘Half a Life’.
As someone who has admired his works. I was swept by the grace and simple beauty of ‘A House for Mr Biswas’. I was overwhelmed by the journey that I undertook with him in Among the believer and Beyond Belief. The Indian trilogy has shocked and enlightened me in equal measure. I did provide me with an alternative w
It is awfully frustrating to reach the end of a well-written and engaging tale, only to discover that it is in fact the back story to another book. How much more frustrating it must have been to read this lovely book in 2001, before the sequel was written. You see, the story ends unresolved: the protagonist has learned so much about the world and his place in it, all of what we thought has been duly shaken ... but suddenly the screen goes dark and one is left positively clamouring for more! For ...more
Sairam Krishnan
Well, wow!

There are ways stories can be told, and there are ways they can be crafted, and there are ways they can be read. Naipaul makes each one of these processes seem so easy.

Half a Life is a strange book, and its undercurrents are its story. Naipaul gives us a story of a man who lets his life lead him across three continents and 40 years before realizing he hasn't really lived the life he wants to live; in effect, he has lived half a life.

There is this quality to Naipaulian prose; reading hi
It is telling that I forgot the name of the main character as I am writing this review. He is less important, I think, than the scenes he sets as we travel with him from child to adult and across three continents. While it is largely a coming of age story, the emphasis is on his sexual awakening, which doesn't occur until halfway through the book or more. The real story though, is about systems of racial categorization and subjugation. The caste system of the protagonists birth country is ever p ...more
Archit Nanda
Half a life is an uncomfortable read. There are moments of genuine insight such as when Naipaul's protagonist states that not all person are born with sexual impulses and no one teaches us the art of flirting.
Well, I too belong to this unhappy breed who isn't skilled in the art of flirting. There is another scene in which Willie's(protagonist) wife asks him about the rumor she had heard about him and an another women. To which Willie replies that his wife wouldn't understand until she see them
urgh. This is so ostensibly 'poco'. I didn't 'feel it'. The part on africa was the most well done, but by then I had lost interest in the book. It just seemed dull, lifeless. Not too well written, though not *badly* written. I seemed to see the points very easily; I think it is lauded as being more nuanced than it actually is. Coetzee praised it; praised Naipaul, but I think it is all (some complicated form) of guilt. I see that the prose is meant to chill, but it does not chill me; I am indiffe ...more
Seema Dubey
I resisted reading Naipaul for a long time, not having the desire to read a writer with a warped sense of what India is and who Indians are. Finding the bias ridiculous that w/o reading I would not know if Naipaul thumbs his nose at India. So, my 1st and hopefully the last unless caught one day with nothing better to do but read a book by VS Naipaul.

Reading is easy, though boring. Its story of an Indian boy who goes from South India to London and then ends up somewhere in Africa. Naipaul paints
Devika S
This is a book that is sharply split into two parts, the first half set in India and in England in the 1930-50s, detailing Willie Chandran's family history and his time as a poor colonial student in London, and then as a failed writer. The second half is set in an un-named Portuguese colony in Africa, in the death throes of colonial empires. Just as the plot is split in to these two elements, so is the quality of insights and observations, for which Naipaul is known. I found the second half -- w ...more
Satyabrat Mishra
No book has ever made me laugh as much as half a life. There was a point ( the story of King Cassota and the beggar queen by Wily ) when I closed the book, sat staring at the wall and laughed my heart out.

Half a life is the tale of Wily, the son of a brahmin who (without any wish whatever) marries a girl of lower caste. And thus begin the travails of Wily.

It has all the ingredients of a characteristic Naipaul novel; a classic satire on the Indian society. Full of anecdotes and dark comedy
I have my mother to thank for getting me to read V.S. Naipaul. She read "A House for Mr. Biswas" in her book club and sang its praises. I told her I'd read an excerpt of an interview where he said no woman writer has ever been his equal, and it kind of turned me off of him, but she said to give him a chance.

So I did, and I don't regret it (although I have to say, in terms of biting social commentary, Jane Austen may have wrapped it up more romantically, but she is every bit as good as Naipaul
Ahmad Alahmadi
كنت دائماً أفكر بموضوع هذه الرواية، الحياة كمغترب بداية من الهروب من بلدك إلى البحث عن بلد مناسب للعيش ثم ما يترتّب على حياتك الجديدة والزواج ربما من خارج بلدك ومحاولة التعايش في البلد الجديد مع أناس لا تربطك بهم لا رابطة دم ولا لغة ولا ثقافة .. التعامل مع نظراتهم وأسئلتهم .. البطئ الواضح في الإنتماء والتقوقع داخل نفسك أكثر وأكثر .. البطئ حتى في إكتشاف أشياء جديدة .. الخوف والقلق الذي تكتسبه كونك في غير بلدك وأي حركة تكون مُلفتة ومحط تسائل خصوصاً على مستوى المجتمعات الصغيرة و الأقل تحضّراً .. وا ...more
Valerie Yoh
Steer clear of this book! If you must read it, check it out from the library, don't buy it. I didn't enjoy or appreciate the book. There was little about the main character to like, sympathize, appreciate, or become connected with. Then, the more I learned about the author, I found that he was a rather unsavory character as well.

Don't waste your time. There are too many good books out there.

I think I had read this before, it seemed vaguely familiar, although I could remember any specifics of it.
Anyway, I found it quite a slow, difficult read unfortunately. Mainly because I had no empathy with the narrator, and found him to be quite an unlikeable character. Maybe that was part of the point.
By the end I thought 'what a depressing read and what a depressing waste of two lives.'
Rosalind Minett
It's good when you start reading a book and know before you've reached the third page that judges were right in picking it as a winner. I was impressed by the subtle and immersive manner in which Naipaul showed the heart of Indian life and culture. The unconscious deprivations of his father and forefathers gradually become apparent to the main character, Willy, as he adapts to first London and then Africa. Always being at an emotional distance, it makes it easier for him to see what is happening ...more
Lauren Albert
The novel is unfortunately as scattered as the characters' ideas of who they are. I understand that Naipaul is trying to show how it is to be one of the people who live half in one community and half in another and so never really live as part of a community at all. But the main characters aren't particularly appealing and the story jumps too much.
About 50 pages into this one, I realized I didn't really like it much. Hoping it would get better (after all, it did win a Nobel for literature), I forced myself to plow on. Sadly, it was all but impossible for me to enjoy the story of this insufferably spineless protagonist and his exceptionally uneventful life.
The characters never touched me, the scenery was never vivid, nobody in the book did anything interesting or learned anything about themselves or the world around them - but hey; it won a Pulitzer - so what do I know? I guess I'm just not sophisticated enough of a reader for this book....
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Naipaul was born and raised in Trinidad, to which his grandfathers had emigrated from India as indentured servants. He is known for the wistfully comic early novels of Trinidad, the bleaker novels of a wider world remade by the passage of peoples, and the vigilant chronicles of his life and travels, all written in characteristic, widely admired, prose.

At 17, he won a Trinidad Government scholarshi
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“His ignorance seemed to widen with everything he read.” 30 likes
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