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Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents
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Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating details ·  571 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
This heartfelt and revealing account of Paul Theroux's thirty-year friendship with the legendary V. S. Naipaul is an intimate record of a literary mentorship that traces the growth of both writers' careers and explores the unique effect each had on the other. Built around exotic landscapes, anecdotes that are revealing, humorous, and melancholy, and three decades of mutual ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 8th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1998)
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Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely spellbinding! I can't remember the last time I laughed over a book so much. Theroux's depiction of Naipaul's (Vidia's) scorn had me cackling with laughter. Naipaul's enmity knows no bounds. He hates everyone. No one can tell him anything he doesn't already know. I'm hard put to recollect other examples of such megalomania in either real life or literature. How could it have left him anything but absolutely miserable? Yet, one thinks, perhaps this was what he had to do to be able to wr ...more
Jun 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best book of Paul Theroux in my view. It is about his 30-year long friendship - literary friendship - with the Nobel laureate V.S.Naipaul, starting from 1966 and ending abruptly around 1996. Though most commentators castigated Theroux as being bitchy and catty in this book, I feel that they have not read his book with an open mind at all. What comes off in the book is Theroux's anguish at the end of the friendship by Naipaul. He gives due credit to naipaul for being his early mentor. ...more
I am so glad I picked up this memoir as an accompaniment to my book club’s choice of “Half a Life” by V.S. Naipaul. In this book, Paul Theroux documents an apparently very close friendship with Naipaul, beginning in 1966 in Africa and ending nearly 30 years later with a falling out. During this time, both men publish many books and articles, travel extensively, take lovers and get divorced. When they meet, Naipaul is already famous and has won several prizes, but Theroux is just beginning his wr ...more
Dec 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
I will never be able to read a VS Naipaul book, now that I have read "Sir Vidia's Shadow" - I know too much. I actually tried to read one of his books a couple of years ago, but never got very far. "Sir Vidia's" is an interesting look into the creative process for both Naipaul and Theroux. Theroux is, at the very least, an honest writer - painting himself as a bit of a cliche in the beginning (the "man's man" writer - a very Hemingway-esque guy who always satisfies his lover...many Freudian inte ...more
Rick Skwiot
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a stroke of luck for an aspiring writer struggling in backwater Uganda: to have a future Nobel laureate dumped in your lap as mentor and guide into the London literary world. After recently re-reading Theroux's breakthrough book, The Great Railway Bazaar, 1975, I was driven to read this literary memoir, which chronicles the author's career and his close association with Naipaul--which ended in acrimony after 30 years. Early on, before he had published a book and asked Naipaul's advice, Ther ...more
These two assholes deserved each other.
Apr 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Paul begins in his usual notorious way, by trying to write fictitiously about Naipaul. Soon he gives up and reveals the identity of his character. That is the Paul one knows.
But he dwells in on the life of the master so elaborately that one feels enamored of his work. So well written of the person he liked and followed in his writing.
His infatuation with Naipaul's first wife is understandable. But he despises his second wife no doubt, who is a divorced Pakistani journalist.
He claims to underst
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
An excellent, highly engaging chronicle of a literary friendship between a writer and his mentor. Theroux is, it seems to me, a trust-worthy guide, an insightful observer and commentator. He offers acute observations on friendship, loyalty, the writing life, Africa, sex. Naipaul is a prick (but we already knew that), someone whose ideas, judgments and opinions become more and more calcified. Details abound. One admires the friendship between Naipaul and Theroux nonetheless, for its steadfastness ...more
May 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
A fan of both Theroux and Naipaul, this book was a voyeuristic journey throughout their lifes and friendship. Theroux portrays their relationship in which he is the underling, always expected to pick up the restaurant tab and listen to Naipaul's diatribes without comment. The lessons learned (and, I would argue, the contacts gained) from Naipaul justified the occasional harsh treatment. I met Theroux briefly in February and he told the audience that it was a book on the unexplored theme of frien ...more
Patrick McCoy
I am a fan of the writing of both Paul Theroux and V.S. Naipaul and was interested by this account of their falling out mainly due to a a memorable experience I had that concerned Naipaul. It seems he was being hosted by The Japan Foundation and was appearing at a panel discussion in Tokyo circa 1997. I was familiar with a few of his books and I was absolutely floored at what a pompous ass he was. He said things such as, "I put Africa on the map! No one was writing about Africa until I was!" He ...more
Steve Groves
Jul 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
For reasons unknown, I have been reluctant to read the fiction of Paul Theroux. While most of his travel books have been very satisfying, the only fiction I attempted, 'The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro' left me cold. Perhaps it is because the places he visits, the characters he meets and the situations he encounters are stranger than any story.

Sir Vidia's Shadow starts out with a fictional story, but it had me hooked from the beginning and it became more compelling as the fictional beginning mo
Jan 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
I did a second reading of this book recently. And I would rank it along side "The Mosquito Coast" as two of the best books written by Theroux -- all the travel books by Theroux are mere fluff.

This book is part biography, part autobiography, part deconstruction (and perhaps part fiction) of Theroux's complicated relationship with VS Naipaul.

Theroux is a struggling lecturer working for the peace corp in Uganda, he meets visiting eminent professor and famous writer VS Naipaul who takes him under
Yvette Ward-Horner
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
I don't normally read biography but my brother gave this to me to read on a plane and V.S. Naipaul is one of my all-time favorite authors. I was amazed by how much I enjoyed this book. Felt quite sad and lonely at the end, as I often do at the end of an especially good novel. I've decided to read more of Paul Theroux's work. I've been told his fiction isn't as good as his travel writing but I'm going to try Mosquito Coast.

Although Friendship between good men is interrupted,their principles remain unaltered.
The stalk of the lotus may be broken,but the fibres remain connected.

Very enjoyable read.

I had a few false starts with this book but once I got going it developed for me and became a really good read. It was very surprising, intimate, intriguing, meaty and rewarding.

There are a few layers to the book. It poses an immediate question, why did the relationship that developed from mentor - mentee, to fellow writer - friendship dissolve? The book is about a 35 year relationship that suddenly turned bad but it is also about the writing process, a biography of the lives of two men, their i
May 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
The record of a friendship that lasted for over 30 years is the next best thing to a biography that Paul Theroux comes close to chronicling on V.S Naipaul.

Theroux couldn’t have come up with a more difficult subject. In his words, Naipaul is the “one of the strangest and most difficult men I have met. He was contradictory, he challenged everything, he demanded attention, he could be petty, he uttered heresies about Africa (a land Theroux had a strong connection with), he made his innocent wife c
Jan 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Carolanne by: Icognito Judito, Brandon
"you'll like this book because you like gossip."-Brandon

I did like this book, I love how Paul writes. so insightful. But Naipaul is a little BITCH! Seriously, I want to punch him in the face. Of course, two sides to every story blah blah.
A good book to read while sick in bed. What shall I read next of the great Theroux??
He reveals so much of his soul in his books, I love it! And knows how to move the plot quickly and efficiently.
Still want to hug him....
Any suggestions on if I should re
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
I found this difficult to rate, as I have read neither Theroux nor Naipaul. I was however interested in the story a frienship between two men, working in the same field. This recollection by Theroux, whileI thought was technically well written (and I am unaware of any suits for defamation, so probably accurate) is not likely to inspire me to read anything written by eithger of them. They both appear to be deeply unpleasant, and not people that I would really want to know. Elements of misogyny ar ...more
Michele White
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is my first Theroux book. Very impressed by his writing. The story of his friend and mentor V.S. Naipul and their relationship over thirty years seems frank (although, it could be hard to assess that really, as with any memoir-esque piece). It's readable, it's fascinating both because of the places you visit with Theroux and Naipul, but also because you get to see a friendship through someone else's eyes in retrospect. Although their friendship does end, the book, I think, is both generous ...more
Jan 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
A wonderful read. There is a decidedly 18th century quality to this portrait of the literary friendship between Paul Theroux and V.S. Naipaul. Theroux clearly acknowledges this tone when he describes himself as playing Boswell to Naipaul's Johnson. A scene of a luncheon party at Naipaul's house is hilarious and could have come right out of Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson. I think it is important to keep this book in the context of literary history and not get too narrowly focused on whether or ...more
May 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Is Naipaul dead? If so, I hate to speak ill of the dead, but he seems like he was quite a bastard. Despite Naipaul's being an extremely difficult man, Theroux maintained a friendship with him for decades, and does some of his finest writing in this book about it. Though it seems a bit like selling out the friendship, profiting off his connection to the more famous author perhaps, you will be willing to overlook that given how good this is. When a friend lent this to me years ago, I didn't have e ...more
Dec 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
My favorite book by Theroux and one of my favorite books, ever. Sir Vidia's Shadow is the no-holds barred examination of his complicated relationship with his mentor, VS Naipaul. One of the few books I've bothered to read twice through and even still dip into from time-to-time. It's intensely personal, viciously honest, scathing yet tender, with many darkly funny moments. Theroux is the master of eloquent sarcasm. Here is one of my favorite passages, which I must've read 42 times, and yet still ...more
Feb 24, 2008 added it
Shelves: read-2008
Oh how I love this book. Not only because the writing is excellent, but also because I so dislike both the leading characters.

I can't give it any stars due to my feeling that it's wrong to wash your dirty linen in public. But that feeling will not stop me re-reading this book with a feeling of horrified fascination every year for some years to come.

Highly recommended to anyone who wishes to read about literary infighting with a dose of competitive backstabbing bitchery thrown in for good measu
Sean de la Rosa
Jan 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book has been sitting half read on the shelf for the past year. I finally plucked up the courage to finish it. Theroux presents a very difficult character in Naipaul: highly opinionated, sometimes rude and totally self involved. Saying that, I'll give Naipaul's 'A House for Mr. Biswas' a try considering the high ratings on Amazon.
Pam Tomkinson
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Quirky story about two very quirky men.
May 26, 2016 added it
Did a review of this book here:
Note to the reader: My book reviews aren't reviews. They are notes to myself. I first discovered this book when it was published and I was staying on Cape Cod in Massachusetts--as was it's author, where he has another home. Boston and the Northeast made a big deal of this book, a friendship gone sour, one hand biting the other. Theroux and his brother had a tendency to drag their personal histories into their writing and badmouth siblings and parents and ex-lovers and in this case, a former frie ...more
Brooke Salaz
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, own
Friendship gone bad. Theroux met V.S. Naipaul in Uganda when he was a teacher in his 20’s and Naipaul an established author in his 30’s. Began with Theroux in the subservient role showing deference and gratitude for Naipaul’s mentorship. Even in retrospect with knowledge they will later have a falling out he is cognizant he may never have become a writer or a very different one had they not met. He does show himself often as the more high minded, unprejudiced, generous of the pair which may be t ...more
Fauzi Garib
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
A wonderful commentary, a majority of which centers around the authors friendship with the highly eccentric Naipaul... But is also about the Theroux's growth as a writer and his own life, as affected by Naipaul's friendship.

Not having been familiar with the work of either of the two, I have to say I am very curious to read both their catalogs.

While discussing this book with a writer friend of mine, incidentally he described this book perfectly. Literary Gossip...

Of special interest was Therou
An entertaining hatchet job. The better writer is apparently not a terribly nice fellow.
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Writers and books 1 4 Nov 18, 2011 06:36AM  
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
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