Mmars's Reviews > The Enigma of Arrival: A Novel in Five Sections

The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul
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May 04, 12

Read from May 01 to 04, 2012

If I were to read this book again, I would read the last section, The Ceremony of Farewell, first. Really. The narrator's summation helps the book as a whole make sense. For one thing, Naipaul establishes the hurried, unedited stream of consciousness style he uses. This is most evident in "Jack's Garden," the first section, and my favorite, of the book.

Here, Naipaul in his youthful naievete relates the circumstances that brought him to Wiltshire, England. But more so, in a sing-songing string of prose, he conjure up the nursery rhyme "This is the house that Jack built. " Fascinated me. Just as we often rethink our past, adding or subtracting details, so does Naipaul remember the countryside manor in which he establishes himself as a writer. I don't think the nursery rhyme connotation was accidental. The book was about life cycles. Mostly change, decay, and death. But also rebirth and opportunity. I decided to just go with his repetitive memories and read the first section like poetry.

The next section, the Journey, is the most autobiographical. Here Napiaul uses a painting, "The Enigma as Arrival," (which graces the cover) as metaphor for his life. Being an immigrant, stranger, outsider who can never return.

"Ivy" was the most difficult for me to read. Both because of style and content. It dragged. My mind wandered. As his landlord (the manor owner) ages and recedes inside the manor, the estate and its employees fall victim to inevitable decay, neglect, and loss. The changes of life. An interesting theme here was his observation of the common interechange of the words refuge and refuse. The metaphor for lives small and sequestered, lives wasted and thrown away. Not only that but it's written by an outsider, leaving the reader helpless.

And finally "Rooks," the birds who lose their homes when the elms die forcing them to other trees, serves to indicate survival is possible. But at what cost? Death is inevitable and it is this that drives the narrator to write his story.

I found the book to be both brilliant and frustrating, an ultimately unevenly written. I finished it, but it wasn't compelling, nor was it driven by plot. For serious readers only, and even then, I'd only recommend it to people who have read Naipaul and wish to dig deeper.
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia I keep meaning to read this book.....or any Naipal. Have you ever heard rooks? To my American ears they sound so exotic. And what is a group of them called? Not a murder of ravens, a flock of geese, can't think of any more right now.......


message 2: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Cynthia wrote: "I keep meaning to read this book.....or any Naipal. Have you ever heard rooks? To my American ears they sound so exotic. And what is a group of them called? Not a murder of ravens, a flock of g..."

I've only read his "A Bend in the River," C, and I'm not really inclined to read more by him.

A building of rooks. My favorite is an unkindness of ravens.


message 3: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Teresa wrote: "Cynthia wrote: "I keep meaning to read this book.....or any Naipal. Have you ever heard rooks? To my American ears they sound so exotic. And what is a group of them called? Not a murder of rave..."

Oh! Unkindness....just like Rendell's title. Which group of birds is called a murder? I like building of rooks.


message 4: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Found it. It's a murder of crows:

http://www.myuniversalfacts.com/2006/...


message 5: by Teresa (last edited May 07, 2012 04:11PM) (new)

Teresa Cynthia wrote: "Found it. It's a murder of crows:

http://www.myuniversalfacts.com/2006/..."


That's a good one for a murder-mystery title too.

The article said some of these terms are very old, but I wonder if birders came up with most of these terms.

I hear a blue jay outside my house right now. A scold of jays ... I guess that fits them usually but this one isn't scolding right now.


message 6: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia The strange thing is every now and then I'll hear a crow cawing and it makes me jump everytime. Honestly I can see why the word murder would come to mind. It's call sounds threatening and loud. We don't have many blue jays but way too many pigeons.

I bet you're right that birders came up with the names. Did you notice that humingbirds are called a 'charm'??? I love that.


Mmars Don't know what a group of rooks is called, haven't heard them either. This is my 3rd Naipaul. Not really sure why I like him. Supposedly a House for Mrs. Biswas is his masterpiece. He's not exactly a pleasant read, but I've found him sort of unique. Also, I'm intrigued by his world-wide background - Trinidad/India/Africa/England and more. There was a good NYT review of Enigma (sorry, I don't have the link) that mentioned a lot about him personally. Truly not all favorable, but interesting.


message 8: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Mmars wrote: "Don't know what a group of rooks is called, haven't heard them either. This is my 3rd Naipaul. Not really sure why I like him. Supposedly a House for Mrs. Biswas is his masterpiece. He's not exactl..."

If I read him again, "House for Mr Biswas" is what I'd get to one day. Anything I've read about him personally never sounds all that favorable. :)


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Teresa wrote: "Mmars wrote: "Don't know what a group of rooks is called, haven't heard them either. This is my 3rd Naipaul. Not really sure why I like him. Supposedly a House for Mrs. Biswas is his masterpiece. H..."

Yes, there are some scolding biographies written about just how awful a person Naipaul was/is. However...unlike yourself I think he's a wonderful writer - his 'Half a Life' and 'Magic Seeds' were harrowing but so well-crafted and Naipaul doesn't flinch for a moment. For me 'Enigma' is his ice-palace inhuman masterpiece though. The narrator of this book is both poet and heartless monster.


message 10: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Troy wrote: "unlike yourself I think he's a wonderful writer - his 'Half a Life' and 'Magic Seeds' were harrowing but so well-crafted and Naipaul doesn't flinch for a moment. For me 'Enigma' is his ice-palace inhuman masterpiece though. The narrator of this book is both poet and heartless monster."

I think "A Bend in the River" was wonderfully written. I can tell he's brilliant, but for some reason I haven't picked up anything else by him yet, even though I had his "House" staring at me for months.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Teresa wrote: "Troy wrote: "unlike yourself I think he's a wonderful writer - his 'Half a Life' and 'Magic Seeds' were harrowing but so well-crafted and Naipaul doesn't flinch for a moment. For me 'Enigma' is his..."

Yes, I need to read Bend in the River at some point. And yes, there are some writers like that, aren't there? who despite intentions to the contrary, and sometimes without having even tried reading them, for some reason don't appeal. I'm a bit like that with some of the mid-twentieth century British lit giants like Geene and Waugh...I know I'm missing out, but...


message 12: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Mmars wrote: "Don't know what a group of rooks is called, haven't heard them either. This is my 3rd Naipaul. Not really sure why I like him. Supposedly a House for Mrs. Biswas is his masterpiece. He's not exactl..."

Mmar I know what you mean about some authors.....I find myself being drawn to them even when other's aren't so what the heck, I just run with it. I'll have to put Biswa on my tbr list.


message 13: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Troy wrote: "Teresa wrote: "Troy wrote: "unlike yourself I think he's a wonderful writer - his 'Half a Life' and 'Magic Seeds' were harrowing but so well-crafted and Naipaul doesn't flinch for a moment. For me ..."

I used to love Greene and Waugh but when i've read them in the last few years I was less enthralled.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Cynthia wrote: "Troy wrote: "Teresa wrote: "Troy wrote: "unlike yourself I think he's a wonderful writer - his 'Half a Life' and 'Magic Seeds' were harrowing but so well-crafted and Naipaul doesn't flinch for a mo..."

Yes. There's a chap I work with who says there are certain books which if not read before you're say twenty-five, then best not read them. I'm not sure I entirely agree, but then I don't think he's entirely wrong either.

Having said that, the first paragraph of Brideshead Revisited is more than the measure of most novels.


message 15: by Teresa (last edited May 09, 2012 01:13PM) (new)

Teresa Troy wrote: "Having said that, the first paragraph of Brideshead Revisited is more than the measure of most novels. "

I read it not quite 2 years ago and liked it a lot, and I'm way over 25. ;)


message 16: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Teresa wrote: "Troy wrote: "Having said that, the first paragraph of Brideshead Revisited is more than the measure of most novels. "

I read it 2 years ago and liked it a lot, and I'm way over 25. ;)"


I read Brideshead sometime in the 80's and loved it. Did you see the recent movie? I didn't like it. I recently tried to read another Waugh but wound up not finishing it. Greene I read ravenously in my 20's but within the past decade I’m not nearly as impressed with.


message 17: by Teresa (last edited May 09, 2012 01:19PM) (new)

Teresa Cynthia wrote: "I read Brideshead sometime in the 80's and loved it. Did you see the recent movie? I didn't like it. I recently tried to read another Waugh but wound up not finishing it. Greene I read ravenously in my 20's but within the past decade I’m not nearly as impressed with."

No, I didn't. I've only seen the old mini-series with Jeremy Irons.


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