Monthly Book Group's Reviews > A Bend in the River

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
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's review
Dec 10, 2010

really liked it

As is usual when a writer undertakes first person narration, there was speculation about the degree to which Salim was a self-portrait. Elements of his behaviour – misogyny in particular – were compared with aspects of Naipaul’s own personal biography. The view was expressed that Salim was in many respects an ‘empty’ character – an observer of events rather than an active protagonist. He seems predominantly passive, awaiting events or developments that will show him how to lead his life. In this context, the opening sentence of the novel was much admired: ‘The World is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.’ As a starting point for an open story that invites a variety of interpretation, this was seen as a very well crafted beginning.

Staying with characterization, Ferdinand was considered as representing the fluidity of the continent in general. In fact, all the characters had a role in expressing aspects of Africa. There was a lack of dynamics between them, it was felt. They were all essentially isolated, even Matty and Salim who had spent their lives together. They were also, it was agreed, not particularly sympathetic or appealing characters. Of course, we see them primarily through the eyes of Salim, and it was suggested that Salim himself was not a perceptive observer. In fact he is quite openly uncomprehending about some of the people he encounters, which places a substantial barrier between the reader and the characters.

In spite of this sense of being held at a distance from characters, there was widespread admiration for Naipaul’s prose style. One of the group pointed out for example the book’s fascination with the river itself, and the precision and variety of natural descriptions.

We turned to themes, and wondered if ultimately it was a rather depressing book. Ferdinand’s final words to Salim, when he has got him out of jail and recommends that he flees, suggest capitulation to a nightmarish breakdown of ethics, culture and order. There seems to be no choice left between right and wrong, because there is no right any more. Salim’s efforts to make a success of his life in this place have come to nothing, and all that is left is to run away. At this particular bend in the river and at this point in central Africa’s history, civilization has failed...

This is an extract from a review at Our reviews are also to be found at


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Finished Reading
December 10, 2010 – Shelved

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message 1: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K The story is always a writers perception. All writers may not make one feel good. Depressing work is often more accurate. Fairy-tale stories have a diifferent audience.

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