`Reading and Writing ` by V. S. Naipaul ( Pub. New York Review Of Books ,2000) A review by V. Ramsamooj Gosine.
In spite of its brevity, Reading and Writing ` by V.S.Naipaul is compulsive reading for anyone who is interested in the development of this writer and by extension other writers.
This short work of non-fiction ( 64 pages), examines critically the strands of history which have shaped and reshaped Naipaul's thoughts and ideas . For example, Naipaul pays glowing tribute to his father whom he saw writing patiently and enthusiastically. Little Vidia listened to his father read stories and this greatly influenced him . So much was Vidia influenced that at age 11 he had already decided that he wanted to become a writer. It was a noble thing and he wanted to be part of it.The book also sifts through memories of his childhood, his days at Oxford, and his earliest attempts at writing. We are all influenced by the landscape we grew up in. It is an inescapable fact and Naipaul is now sharing that experience with his readers, at the same time, he is looking at the material from a distance.
This reviewer would have preferred a longer work in which Naipaul develops his major concerns on which his imagination fed: the Ramlila of The Ramayan, his anthology of Literature, his father's love for books which he got Naipaul interested in , Mr Worm, his primary school teacher, and the cinema. The basic themes are there and only readers who are acquainted with the material could readily understand the discussion. Those who have lived outside the colonial system would have certain problems.
Not surprisingly, Naipaul thinks that education ( in his days ) produced only crammers , not real thinking men. This is the sort of opinion Naipaul forms when he analyses what he himself has been through.
Even after Naipaul had written his earlier books and was set on the road to becoming an established writer, he was still searching, examining and analysing everything around him , including definitions. One gets the strong feeling that Naipaul is not the sort of writer who readily accepts things easily. Evelyn Waugh defined fiction as ` experienced totally transformed ` while Joseph Conrad ( a writer Naipaul admires ) saw the novel as a `fabrication of events which properly speaking are accidents only.'
Naipaul questions and draws his own conclusions. In this way, he does nothing impulsively and accepts nothing without reservation , but shapes and reshapes. In parts of `Reading and Writing' Naipaul shares his own attitude to new raw material. And this is definitely worth looking at.
In this autobiographical piece, subtitled "A Personal Account,' and written for the Charles Douglas Home Memorial Trust, the reader may have stumbled upon bits and pieces of information before but Naipaul painstakingly organizes his information l in such a way that each idea contributes and guides the reader along.
`Reading and Writing' could be read in one sitting but truly , the work should be read slowly and meticulously. There is just so much to absorb and to consider if one is really to comprehend the mind of a great, gifted writer. Naipaul often presents different viewpoints , which invite the reader to weigh and consider just as he did when the material first presented itself to him. In this way, Naipaul admits the reader into the curious laboratory from which he emerged.
In Part II, Naipaul continues a discussion - the importance of the novel - which he has raised elsewhere. He focuses on the novel and its uses in the later 19th century and now wonders whether the novel has served its usefulness. Interestingly enough, he quotes long passages from Charles Dickens and R.K.Narayan and makes pronouncements on their fiction and in all this, Naipaul the enquirer is still engaging his mind in discussion. What `Reading and Writing' reveals more than anything else is that Naipaul, the artist, is always challenging his mind to get at the best. Serious writers , especially the young, should read closely his conclusions. Naipaul is not unfair. His roving critical eye would not permit him to write second rate pieces. It is the sort of standard he places on himself.
Naipaul thinks that,' Literature ,like all living art is always on the move....No literary form , the Shakespeare play, the essay, the work of history - can continue for a very long time at the same pitch of inspiration .' Harsh but realistic ! Is Naipaul then on a quest for another form to carry out his work ? And is he attempting to create a new form to mirror the world ? He partly answers the question in the new form he uses in his later travel books, (eg. India: A Million Mutinies Now ), but from all appearances ,he is still evolving something.
`Reading and Writing ` opens up a new world for us to examine. It is not the world he created but it is colonial Trinidad , India and Motherland , England. This is certainly not a text to be rushed through, short as it may be, but it certainly gives an insight into Naipaul, the writer.