David Lentz's Reviews > Half a Life
Half a Life
by V.S. Naipaul
by V.S. Naipaul
David Lentz's review
Jun 20, 11
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 closer to the truth about himself. He discovers that he cannot to his own self be true simply by living the lives of others. The characters, setting and imagery in Half a Life are memorable and the narration enjoys a frankness that engenders respect. While this is a very fine work by V.S. Naipaul, it suffers somewhat by comparison to A House for Mr. Biswas, which is a truly brilliant novel. What does one do for an encore after one writes a real masterpiece? If you haven't read it yet, you may want to try it first. All the acclaim of Naipaul is justified: he can really write and Mr. Biswas is hands-down his finest work. I recommend that you go for Mr. Biswas and then, if you like it, circle back to worthy but somewhat less daunting works like Half a Life -- unless you prefer a toe-in-the-water approach with this Nobel Prize winner. One really can't go wrong with V.S. Naipaul except not to read him.
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