Bloom's Reviews > A House for Mr Biswas

A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
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Apr 22, 08

Read in April, 2008

Have you ever gone for a book, one heralded as a classic no less, only to find yourself fighting with it, page after page, trying to stave off sleep, all in the hope something, anything will take shape that makes it all worth while?

Of course you have, so you perhaps you can commiserate with my experience with A House for Mr Biswas, an unfortunate slog if there ever was one. Night after night I dove in, hopeful to roll into a breakthrough moment (similar to the one I had in Atonement or Sons and Lovers), only to come up craps every time.

Here’s the thing: it’s a cradle to grave account of his life, a pretty tough form to pull off in the first place. We see the following: a young boy shuttled off to family members after his father dies tragically. We see this boy become a sign painter who, while on assignment for a local merchant family, the Tulsis, stumbles into a poor marriage with one of their daughters. An orphan, a bad marriage, jackals for inlaws? It is all quite Victorian, but there is none of verve, fun, or heartbreak of the great Victorian novels. Instead we see a man going soft around the middle as he struggles to gain the respect of the family as his own family of four children come into the world, and he takes the book with him as he goes. With the brief exception of middle a chapter in which Mr Biswas tries to have a house built on the cheap in midst of the Tulsis’s sugar plantations—a chapter that rings like the best of Melville or Dickens—the novel is bereft of any momentum. Mr Biswas plods along, and the novel bobs in his wake.

Great writing exists sentence to sentence, indeed; flashes of characters and relationships that matter, particularly between Mr Biswas and his eldest children, Anand and Savi, rise up and illuminate; there are comic moments when Mr Biswas discovers a career as a journalist; and certainly there is sly commentary about poverty and colonialism, but these parts fail to make a meaningful whole. Mr Biswas gets his house and he dies—no spoiler here, all this is revealed on the first page—and none of it really seems to matter.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Manena very well written, a bit slow atbtimes

message 2: by Krishna (new)

Krishna Why do not you try to write your own novel, which has none of the deficiencies of this one. But you did not tell what you did not find in this book.

message 3: by Nat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nat That's the beauty of this book. It captures the futility of many peoples lives. It's heart breaking. Not everyone can find what they need in life- something as basic as a place to call your own.

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