Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Enigma of Arrival: A Novel in Five Sections” as Want to Read:
The Enigma of Arrival: A Novel in Five Sections
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Enigma of Arrival: A Novel in Five Sections

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,461 ratings  ·  151 reviews
Taking its title from a picture by surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico, this is the story of a young Indian from the Crown Colony of Trinidad, who arrives in post-imperial England. He observes the gradual but profound changes wrought on the English countryside by the march of progress.
Paperback, 387 pages
Published by Picador (first published 1987)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Enigma of Arrival, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Enigma of Arrival

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,461 ratings  ·  151 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Enigma of Arrival: A Novel in Five Sections
Vit Babenco
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Enigma of Arrival is named after the painting by Giorgio de Chirico – in a way any arrival to some new place is an enigma for the one who arrives. As a clueless youth the narrator, cherishing the grand ideas of becoming a writer, – V. S. Naipaul himself – arrives to London and, after being educated in Oxford, he lives in England as a stranger among strangers…
That idea of ruin and dereliction, of out-of-placeness, was something I felt about myself, attached to myself: a man from another hemis
Apr 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, uk, 20-ce
Just a note here. I've read this book twice and have an observation that I haven't come across elsewhere. In short, it's that there is a vertiginous aspect to Naipaul's descriptions of landscape here. I never have a stable sense of the world around the narrator, but one that is always off-kilter, if not spinning. This is something that I've not come across in Naipaul's other books, most of which I've read. I'm thinking now it may just be a function of over-description, in which case the attentiv ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Purposedly boring, yet purposedly exciting. I used to think it is not possible for a book to be both boring and exciting until I read this autobiographical work.

So far, what I know of V.S. Naipul I got only from this book. His parents were from India who had migrated to the island of Trinidad ( with the other island nearby, Tobago, it completes the country of "Trinidad and Tobago" near Venezuela where the beauty queens are). Since this was before large oil and gas reserves were discovered there,
Apr 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
In A Wounded Civilization, V.S.Naipaul criticized Gandhi and Nehru for “their Hindu way of not seeing” – he wrote that neither Gandhi nor Nehru had any perspective about the places they visited and saw during their early days in England. Nobody would ever accuse V.S.Naipaul of the same ignorance after reading The Enigma of Arrival. In this autobiographical novel, Naipaul describes his idyllic but melancholic life in an old English manor in Wiltshire.

The novel, divided into five parts begins wit
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A perfect example of writing that feels very staid and traditional until, about half way through the book, you pick your head up and realize that it's doing something completely original. Not exactly fiction, not exactly non-ficiton (not exactly poetry for that matter), but filled with lush sentences that relay the slow, unstoppable movemements of a vegetative mind, Naipaul's, thinking about a particular place and a particular time so well that the meditation becomes about Place and Time, rather ...more
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the kind of story that I could never imagine myself liking. Yet somehow Naipaul's purposely slow narrative manages to become something evocative and unforgettable. This is an autobiographical novel of Naipaul's lonely time during his middle age in the English countryside, as well as his early journey out of Trinidad as a youth. It is a rumination on the movement of people, the march of progress and the cycles of death and change that affect everyone and everything in the world around us. ...more
Oct 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 1001-list-books
I'm pretty sure you can figure out what I think of a book from the page number/time spent to read ratio. I've read so many five star reviews for this book and I've found them baffling. Sure, it's a cyclical narrative. Not that difficult to pull off when absolutely nothing happens. I got so sick of the repetition, which is apparently also a sign of brilliance. Does deciding you're going to be "a writer" really make you see the world any differently? I can understand being a pompous teenager in a ...more
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lots of descriptions of a decaying landscape, building and society. At times a bit too repetitive although the repetitions probably contribute to the dreamlike quality, especially of the first part.

The story is autobiographical, set mostly during the time that the author lived in a rented cottage on the Wiltshire estate of the recluse Stephen Tennant.

I was particularly drawn to the moving descriptions of the lives of the people in the area that Naipaul had contact with.

To be read slowly.
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: naipaul
A compelling autobiographical book about a period of life where Naipaul lived in a cottage within a manor house grounds bar Salisbury. The book is over descriptive on purpose on the day to day lives of the people and landscape where Naipaul lived. The book should be boring but I found myself memorized and fascinated by Naipaul’s description of the characters and his interpretation of their personalities and lives.

Jack and his garden, the owner of the manor one of Waugh’s bright young things now
Lovmelovmycats Hart
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: indian
So boring. It could have won the Pulitzer Prize for SO BORING if there was one.
Aug 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Naipaul writes that the title of his book is based on Chirico's 1911 painting which shows two muffled figures standing in a deserted street in what appears to be a port city. A ship's. mast can be seen in the background. Originally, he says he had intended to write a story set in classical times about a sea journey which ends in a dangerous city. In fact, what emerges in the book is the story of a journey of a traveler from Trinidad who ends up living in Wiltshire near Stonehenge, the journey th ...more
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Once I’d settled into this, it was a beautiful read. Naipaul is a Nobel Laureate and so you expect that the prose will be challenging. But while A Bend in the River and In a Free State are more “psychologically challenging” as I said in my review of the latter, the challenge with Enigma is that is so very, very simple.

The prose is so measured and the descriptions so simple that you can be forgiven for getting bored until you grasp what Naipaul is doing. This is no accident. The prose perfectly f
May 01, 2012 rated it liked it
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 o
Dec 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Impressive work of fiction that is some high percentage memoir of a writer’s life (obviously Naipaul's) in his adopted country. For a book with virtually no plot, just deep observation and precise, attentive description, it is amazingly absorbing reading.

Naipaul, by most, if not all accounts, is not a nice man, perhaps even by many measures a bad one, mean, self-absorbed, and cursed with a bully’s violent temper. None of that, however, is a factor, even much of a presence here. There are brief m
A strange novel, very hypnotising in parts. It is the first circular novel I've read - you can start reading from any chapter. In fact, the first and longest chapter is almost the wrong chapter to start reading this novel and when I read this novel again, I'll start at the second. The first chapter annoyed me a little because I was always trying to picture in my head where all the geographical features were in relation to the buildings. If only there was a map! In the end, I had to ignore my loc ...more
Oct 24, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a really odd book. The style is likeable enough that I read the whole thing even though this would be a candidate for the most words ever written about next to nothing.

It's basically an autobiographical novel that focuses on the writer's existance in Salisbury, UK. He skips over the good parts.

The best part of it is a review on the back cover that: "like a computer game leads the reader on by a series of clues....." This is from 1987 so if you liked the Legend of Zelda or Mike Tyson's pu
Jul 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Enigma of Arrival is one of V. S. Naipaul's masterpieces. In this autobiographical novel he successfully conveys to the reader the atmosphere of the English countryside through the meditations of the narrator on his original journey from Trinidad to England. Through the mind of the narrator we experience the fictional reality of the world-a world of Naipaul's making. Echoes from both James Joyce and Marcel Proust are visible in the narration of the novel. This seems a quiet book, but it is a ...more
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was in college when Naipaul won the Nobel in 2001. I diligently picked up a few of his non-fiction works which surprisingly are still fresh in my memory – his fascination with filth and squalor could be one of the reasons.

‘The Enigma of Arrival’ is much different from his other works. I don’t agree with the fiction classification of this work as its heavily auto biographical. The first section of the work was a masterclass on observation of a countryside and juxtaposing it with ruminations on
Katelis Viglas
May 19, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book long ago before V.S. Naipoul earn the Nobel Price. The painting of the cover stuck me. The title shuits perfectly not with the context but with the painting. Such a cover and such a title were very suggestive. Unfortunately the context just was absent. Very good language, but without something really amazing.
Guy Cranswick
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Not quite a novel, it's a type of memoir, which comprises travel as a theme though it is set in one place. It is really about how travel changes those that move, whether emigrants or the permanently restless. Set in an English county, Naipaul is perspicacious to a great degree, the writing is acute, sometimes cruel, but nearly always accurate about people and place. A stimulating read.
May 14, 2008 rated it did not like it
Flat - that's the best word to describe how I felt while reading this book. It's unbelievably repetitious. I have nothing good to say about it
M. Sarki
Oct 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
Good writing that bored me to death. Had to abandon.
Oct 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Over the course of five sections, The Enigma of Arrival draws an autobiographical portrait of an unnamed narrator that strongly resembles the author. Like Naipaul, the narrator is ethnically Hindu, raised in Trinidad, and schooled in England. He recounts his life on a decaying country estate near Salisbury, Wiltshire. Much of the novel focuses on the characters that populate the manor and the changes that it undergoes while the narrator lives there. This narrative is supplemented with recollecti ...more
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
The Enigma of Arrival is a novel about how we deceive ourselves, consciously and unconsciously, to create a version of the world into which we can fit with the minimum of pain. It is also about how we cast illusions on the world, distorting it until it answers our personal and collective needs. In Trinidad, a man truncates the history of the island to understand his own place in it. In rural Wiltshire a business owner mentally denies his family history of servitude in order to accept his new vis ...more
Michele Roohani
Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
The gray green of Naipaul's novel kept with me for a while after I finished the book. Naipaul, once again, surprised me with his poetic eyes and keen observations about a foreigner's journey to the new land.

"And then one afternoon it began to snow. Snow dusted the lawn in front of my cottage; dusted the bare branches of the trees; outlined disregarded things, outlined the empty, old-looking buildings around the lawn that I hadn’t yet paid attention to or fully taken in; so that piece by piece, w
Oct 07, 2019 rated it liked it
A well written, thought provoking, unique novel that reads like a travel writing autobiography. There is little plot momentum and character development. The author describes the countryside he lived in for a number of years near Salisbury, England. He writes about some of the people that he lived near. A property changes ownership, reflecting the lifestyle change occurring in England. The author states that the motif of the book is death.

If you have not read any V.S. Naipaul then I recommend you
I’m just not one of literary novels, I think. But I try haha. I keep trying.

Trinidad <\b> book around the world.

I’m going to power through and try to get as many of my Book around the World challenge as I can these 2 months as I can.
Tracey the Bookworm
This author writes like an artist, his sentences like brushstrokes on a canvas. And just like an artist he builds up the scene before you, layer upon layer, so that you find yourself surveying the panorama thus displayed before you. However this becomes tiresome when the same ‘brushstrokes’ are repeated over and over. DNF
From Publishers Weekly

Discursive and ruminative, more like an extended essay than a novel, the intricately structured chapters in this highly autobiographical book reveal "the writer defined by his . . . ways of seeing." Naipaul, in his own person, narrates a series of events, beginning during a period of soul-healing in Wiltshire, circling back to the day of his departure from Trinidad in 1950 when he was 18, describing his time in London before he went up to Oxford, moving back to Trinidad a

Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books I could not read quickly. Not because it's extremely intricate, difficult to grasp - it was not a challenge by any standards. Not because it's outstandingly beautiful, hard to let go of - it was to me just the average novel.

The thing is, the story moves slowly, the pace matches the change of seasons, the succession of years //:o) .... and I wanted to adjust (and read it as slowly as itself it moves).

I personally disagree with what the author himself says in the end of
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Reading 1001: The Enigma of Arrival, by V.S. Naipaul 1 5 Aug 31, 2019 03:11PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Satin Island
  • Napoleon: The Man behind the Myth
  • The Lives of Others
  • The Affairs of the Falcóns
  • Austerlitz
  • An Equal Music
  • This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation Into the Writing Life
  • Summer of a Thousand Pies
  • Start Small Finish Big: 15 Key Lessons to Start and Run Your Own Successful Business
  • A Deadly Education (Scholomance, #1)
  • Father and Son
  • The Talented Miss Farwell
  • Amulet
  • Your Face in Mine
  • Mañanaland
  • The Case of the Perfect Maid: A Short Story
  • The Hollow Ones
See similar books…
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

News & Interviews

Hispanic Heritage Month is the perfect time to relish the latest works from beloved Hispanic and Latinx authors like Isabel Allende, Natalia...
79 likes · 72 comments
“How could people like these, without words to put to their emotions and passions, manage? They could, at best, only suffer dumbly. Their pains and humiliations would work themselves out in their characters alone: like evil spirits possessing a body, so that the body itself might appear innocent of what it did.” 11 likes
“In my late thirties the dream of disappointment and exhaustion had been the dream of the exploding head: the dream of a noise in my head so loud and long that I felt with the brain that survived that the brain could not survive; that this was death. Now, in my early fifties, after my illness, after I had left the manor cottage and put an end to that section of my life, I began to be awakened by thoughts of death, the end of things; and sometimes not even by thoughts so specific, not even by fear rational or fantastic, but by a great melancholy. This melancholy penetrated my mind while I slept; and then, when I awakened in response to its prompting, I was so poisoned by it, made so much not a doer (as men must be, every day of their lives), that it took the best part of the day to shake it off. And that wasted or dark day added to the gloom preparing for the night.” 9 likes
More quotes…