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on 8 August 2008
I never understood why it says this is a `comic' masterpiece on the cover. It's true that A House for Mr Biswas is often funny and always biting, but as a novel this is tragic and grindingly dark stuff. Even the happy ending (given away at the beginning of the book; I'm not spoiling anything for you here), only is a happy end of sorts. Perhaps it is the inexhaustible undercurrent of cheerfulness amid the squalor that makes this so readable, and on the surface a `comic' work.

The novel describes the life of Mohun Biswas, the son of poor peasants of Indian descent in Trinidad, and his long trajectory from the sugarcane worker's hut to a still precarious position as dispatch writer for one of the capital's newspapers. Most of it is concerned with his struggle to escape from his very closed, self-obsessed community, still ridden with the caste prejudices and rituals of a Mother India its members have never seen, and from the tentacles of the Tulsi clan, a monster wringing dry the weak for the benefit of the leaders, into which he was tricked into marrying. Biswas wastes his life among the fields in various backwaters. He is swindled to ruin as a shopkeeper. He is threatened with knifing and arson. But mostly he can't be alone; he can't obtain the privacy, the minimum self-sufficiency without which there can be no dignity and for which the all-encompassing desire to own his own house comes to stand.

Probably largely autobiographical - Biswas appears loosely modelled on Naipaul's father - A House for Mr Biswas has the strength of novels written from experience. It is richly precise and vivid in its portrayal of places, of people and situations, and in recording the passage of time in the small island of Trinidad. It transports the reader to a doubly foreign, faraway world, to great effect. In fact, the strangeness adds to the disorientation one shares with Biswas, making the story even more realistic. And this block of a novel is ceaselessly imaginative and never boring. One piece of trivia: probably a coincidence, but the plot's outline for The Shipping News, Annie Proulx's prize-winning novel, is contained in a one-paragraph anecdote in the later pages of Naipaul's book.
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on 7 January 2008
Poor Mr Biswas. What a monster he seems with his adopted family, but how true he is to the way all of us feel when our relatives get too much for us.

His dream to have a place on this earth to call his own is a universal desire and his achievement just before he shuffles off his own mortal coil brings the novel to a conclusion that, unlike too many other novels, feels complete.
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on 29 August 2011
In A House for Mr Biswas, V.S.Naipaul takes relish in creating an unpromising protagonist and an utterly prosaic plot. There are no grand sweeps of history, this is not a novel of ideas and the author resolutely refuses to tie up all the threads in the final pages. Mr Biswas blunders into buying a succession of jerry-built homes, and, in spite of some talent as a writer, spends most of his time in fear of the sack from the newspaper where he is employed. Naipaul eschews tricks of story-telling; indeed events are humdrum, reflecting all the daily squabbles, rivalries and occasional triumphs of the extended Tulsi family, Indians living in Trinidad. Furthermore Naipaul declines to fill in the characters in the story. Why then is it so readable and why so comic - or as the blurb on the back says, tragi-comic? In part the story telling is captivating because of its unvarnished honesty. As in William Boyd's Any Human Heart, chance dictates much of the plot. The writing too is plain, nothing soaringly poetic, but irreducably concise prose. So a uncompromising book that throws down an implicit challenge to the reader. And Mr Biswas, for all that he may look like a loser, has something defiant about him and that's just enough to redeem him.
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on 12 May 2011
This work is lacking in humour and is rather long-drawn out, but I disagree that the characters lack reality - for me, they are simply not very interesting. The failings of Biswas generate some poignancy and amusement, but are dwelt on for far too long. If the book had been edited to half the length it might have been more interesting. Still I'd give it a go if the plot appeals to you. The prose is straightforward, and lucid, and it was interesting to encounter a culture (Hindus in the West Indies) that I knew little about. I liked "Magic Seeds" more.
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on 26 July 2014
A long, and at times, tedious novel. Not an easy read
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on 7 March 2011
There are a great number of excellent reviews of this book here; read them and you don't really need my interpretation. However I did want to add my voice to the praise for 'A house for Mr Biswas': it is indeed a masterpiece. It is the story, lightly and humourously told, of one family's struggle out of poverty, out of the darkness and traditions of some far flung outpost of the colonies and into the modernism of the twentieth century with all its dreams and ambitions of hope and prosperity. It is not a pretty story if one reads beyond Naipaul's gentle humour, for beneath that humour lurks the ever present terror of serious poverty: yet it is a warm and wonderful story told with great beauty and skill. I loved Mr Biswas, for in him I recognised so much of me.
Certainly one of the very best books I have ever read.
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on 30 November 2010
I really enjoyed this book, yes it was depressing in places and Mr Biswas is not a likable character, but somehow I wanted him to find his house and for him to live happily ever after. Maybe I was fed up with him moaning and arguing for the entire book and being jealous of other people's fortunes.
I liked the humour of the book, the bickering, the trying to outdo each other.... would definitely recommend it.
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on 11 September 2013
I was disappointed by this book. I found it very difficult to get into, although it got better as it went on. Having said that, i have to add that about a third of my book group loved it!
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on 20 January 2013
classic book which will stay with you forever. mr biswas is an unforgettable character and his pursuit of self improvement material and spiritual is univesal
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on 24 October 2013
A classic - the novel that established Naipaul as a true master of the written word. The complex relationships within a Trinidad family of Asian origin.
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