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623 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1961
Here and there Mr. Maclean’s roof leaked; that added to the cosiness of shelter. Water fell from the corrugations in evenly-spaced streams, enclosing the house. Water flowed down the sloping land below the roof; the pellets of dirt had long disappeared. Water gouged out tortuous channels as it forced its way down to the road and down to the hollow before the barracks. And the rain continued to roar, and the roof resounded.
For several seconds at a time lightning lit up a shining chaotic world. Fresh mud flowed off Tarzan’s grave in a thin regular stream. Raindrops glittered as they struck the sodden ground. Then the thunder came, grating and close. Anand thought of a monstrous steam-roller breaking through the sky. The lightning was exciting but it made him feel peculiar. That, and the thunder, sent him back to the bedroom.
How ridiculous were the attentions the weak paid one another in the shadow of the strong.
He was oppressed by a sense of loss: not of present loss but of something missed in the past. He was beset by alien growths, alien affections, which fed on him & called him away from that part of him which yet remained purely himself, that part which had for long been submerged. What had happened was locked away in time. But it was an error, not a part of truth. He felt exposed & vulnerable. He reflected on the unreality of his life & wished to make a mark on the wall as proof of his existence.But there is something of Sisyphus in Mr. Biswas, as he does not relent & keeps searching for an outlet. By chance, work as a sign painter leads to a position as a newspaper columnist when the editor comes to see that Biswas has hidden talent in spite of a weak resume. This leads to an increase in status as well as pay & the purchase of a car to replace the decrepit Enfield bike he has used for transport. Journalism becomes an outlet & later a typewriter causes him to aim at becoming an author. His columns are irregular in tone & occasionally bombastic, causing Biswas to be seen as both a wit & a madman.
The mind, while it is sound, is merciful. And rapidly the memories of Hanuman House, the Chase, Green Vale, Shorthills, the Tulsi house in Port of Spain would become jumbled, blurred; events would be telescoped, many forgotten. Occasionally, a nerve of memory would be touched--a puddle reflecting the blue sky after rain, a pack of tumbled cards, the fumbling with a shoelace, the smell of a new car, the sound of a stiff wind through the trees, the scent & colors of a toy shop, the taste of milk & prunes--and a fragment of forgotten experience would be dislodged, isolated, puzzling.A House for Mr. Biswas is not a novel that will please every reader but the prose is at times wondrous, especially in the last 1/3 of the book. The novel is monumental not in broad scope but in slowly-evolving details of a particular kind of common man in Trinidad who possesses uncommon attributes, living amidst a displaced people not quite divorced from their Indian roots, speaking English & Hindi alternately, still under the British colonial flag in a Caribbean land.
In a time of new separations & yearnings, in a library grown suddenly dark, the hailstones beating against the windows, the marbled endpaper of a dusty leather-bound book would disturb & it would be the week before Christmas in the Tulsi Store. Later & very slowly, in securer times of different stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place & give back the past.
The origins of the James Bond theme are disputed. Mr. Norman [Barry's biographer] said that Barry brushed off a musical passage from “Bad Sign, Good Sign,” a song he had written for a musical version of the V. S. Naipaul novel A House for Mr. Biswas. With a few adjustments, it became the theme to Dr. No, [the film that launched the James Bond series].