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on 1 May 2017
Although I had some antipathy toward the Trinidad I went to high school in during the 1970s, I found the hatred and contempt that Naipaul seems to have for pretty much all things Trinidadian makes it an unpleasant read. If you have no affinity for the country and no knowledge of the people, maybe you will just take it as a bad experience, but when an expatriate writer draws such ugly pictures of the people and the culture and creates such *small* people that one finds it hard to empathize with... it just illustrates why he doesn't live in the Caribbean. It's OK to write about evil and to create negative portrayals or villains. This is NOT that. This is just a petty, bitter portrayal of his homeland and it seeks to diminish the culture from which he 'escaped'... In actuality, I think it ends up diminishing HIM... even though it is quite well written (though it is boring and as someone else said, repetitive and difficult to read).

It's not the only one of his books I've read, and the bitter comes through in those as well. I much preferred The Mystic Masseur, his first book.

Bottom line: there are truer portrayals of Trinidad and the West Indies -- and many are easier and more fun to read.
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on 4 August 2010
It took me a little while to get into this book, but after the first 100 pages I was thoroughly hooked.

Naipaul tells the life story of Mohun Biswas, a Hindu Indo-Trinidadian living in Trinidad in the first half of the 20th century. .I should also mention here that the book is said to draw from the real life story of Naipaul's father.

Right from the first sentence of the book we know that Mr Biswas will die, at a reasonably young age, and we are introduced to him in his last days. However, this is just for a brief time, and soon the story starts from the beginning of Mr Biswas' life, where we discover that he was considered to be an unlucky child right from the start.

As he grows up, he leads an increasingly haphazard and unfortunate life. However, his misfortune is not the overblown, dramatic tragedy of multiple and untimely deaths of loved ones (though there are one or two), horrible accidents, and grievous bodily harm, etc. Instead, his life is blighted by the more subtle dissatisfactions of not quite knowing who you are, not really being happy what you are doing, falling into a family life that does not quite please you and so on. His focus throughout all this becomes his goal of having a house of his own, instead of having to share a living space with his in-laws, the Tulsis, who are a large and rather difficult family to live with. All this is set against the backdrop of changing times in Trinidad - the gradual loss and/ or homogenisation of the Hindu and Indian culture that Indo-Trinidadians brought over from their ancestral land, the increasing need for better education in order to get by in life, the growing number of people sending their children to study or work abroad, etc.

I found Naipaul's rendering of Mr Biswas and to be affectionate and sympathetic without being sentimental. Although Mohun is often stubborn, argumentative and rather morose, I found myself really rooting for him as he has a sort of dogged determination to make something of himself, and he does seem pretty mistreated by his in-laws. At the start of the book in fact, I felt that the Tulsi family were really quite nasty people. However, after time goes by I began to see that the way they behave is mostly without malice - it's just the way they interact with family members. And then I appreciated even more the insightful way in which Naipaul portrays family life. After all, in most families, there are no real "baddies", just many people with conflicting needs, desires and regrets.

Mr Biswas does find some satisfaction in his life, so it is not all doom and gloom, and he does also end up with a more tender bond with his close family (his wife and children). Their arguments soon become more like habit, and even have a slight feeling of affection in them.

I think this book does suffer a little from being labelled as a comedy, as some people seem to expect it to be a lot more obviously funny than it is, and are thus disappointed. It is darkly funny, but the humour is more subtle than the tagline "his immortal comic masterpiece" suggests. In my opinion, most of the humour comes from the portrayal of Mr Biswas as a somewhat cantankerous young (and later middle aged) man who gets thrown into all sorts of awkward situations (sometimes through his own mistakes) and seems to muddle through life with lofty ambitions and a feeling of being rather hard done-by. He is also quite a sardonic individual and delights in thinking up not-so-complimentary nicknames for various family members, and in making jokes about his circumstances.

It is perhaps more satisfying to think of this book as a fantastic social commentary, and a brilliant evocation of life in an Hindu extended family in post-colonial Trinidad, with just a mild touch of dark humour and a deeply personal look into the mind of the character of Mohun Biswas. There is a lot of dissatisfaction, a bit of misery, and several illuminating flashes of hope and joy. Overall, the story is deeply involving, and you will be completely absorbed by Mr Biswas' life.
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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 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 24 June 2006
`AHFMB' is the story of Mohun Biswas, a Trinidadian of Indian descent, and his lifelong search for a place to call his own. The book follows his life from his birth, to his early life as he searches for a career to call his own, to his marriage and life with his stifling in-laws, to his first (very belated) attempts at complete independence and finally to his death (with which the book actually begins). Mr Biswas is an everyman: not too bright, not too good-looking, not too strong, and his attempts to make a better life for himself are constantly thwarted by his own failings, and the ambition of those around him. Throughout the whole book Biswas, and all the other characters, are trying to define their roles and find a niche in the new post-colonial Trinidad.

`AHFMB' reminded me a lot of Rushdie's `Midnight's Children', both in its subject matter and its construction. There is a touch of magical realism at the beginning, with Mr Biswas' unlucky sneeze bringing disaster, and the dialogue between the Hindu characters is reminiscent of the lyrical `hinglish' often used by Indian writers. Mr Biswas' story represents a nation finding its new identity post-colonialism on many levels. Firstly, there is the lack of definition suffered by all the characters, as they struggle to find what they can achieve in post-colonial Trinidad. The characters also have more allegorical significance, such as the Tulsi's (Biswas' in-laws) representation of the old (and failing) social order, or other characters representing religious institutions or the influx of new money. `AHFMB' is a very clever observation of a society finding its roles.

The thing that made `AHFMB' such an enjoyable read, was the jaunty style in which it was written. Mr Biswas' life is actually pretty depressing on the whole, but Naipaul tells his story as a comic tale, making it an easy read, and never unduly heavy. `AHFMB' is a clever, thought provoking and easy read. It is a big book, but simply flew by as I read. Absolutely brilliant.
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on 10 October 2001
Mr Biswas is an unlikely hero, dyspeptic, disappointed - and doomed. From page one, we know that he will die in his house on Sikkim Street aged 46, father of four children with a precise inventory of furniture around him and his Ford Prefect car on the lot outside.
The novel is a continuing reiteration of his need to find a job, transport, a house and a family. He has moments of success - when he writes his prose poem, when he is employed as a journalist and later as a welfare worker - but the novel is a sprawling account of his failures and his inability to deal with them. He is a man determined to rebel caught up in the domesticity and social system of his people. And the book is difficult to put down.
It is composed of a series of episodes which gradually move the plot forward through repetition of incidents, the insidious grasp of the Tulsi family and the economics of Trinidad. The Second World War and the rise of Communism are incidental to the action but woven into it. It is as if the same picture were being presented over and over with minute alterations which nonetheless define the progress of the narrative.
Even as a tiny baby, our hero is 'Mr Biswas', overshadowed by the predictions of a 'pundit' at his birth. He makes his discoveries and takes steps forward which are often false and deflate his ambitions but this is largely a comic tale written with skill and, despite its sprawl, encapsulated in the Prologue and Epilogue which act as a framing device.
Comparisons with other writers of Asian origin such as Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children) and Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy) are possible but the style also reflects the approach of Dickens and Anthony Burgess (eg Earthly Powers).
All in all, a good read leaving behind a rueful smile and a nod of recognition about the human condition.
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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 22 August 2001
Mr Biswas'passive aggressive behaviour, peppered with occasional, unexpected outbursts is almost aspirational. In him V S Naipaul has created an impressive blend of a refusal to compromise, qualified by an underlying desire to conform to group dynamics. Mr Biswas is the classic example of a man conspired against by time and circumstance, struggling to straddle the gap between his lowly position in society (and, indeed, his family) and his high-minded aspirations. V S Naipaul renders his tribulations as infused with a natural humour, mirroring the reality of paranoid outcasts everywhere. This book is a must for anyone who has ever felt they deserve better!
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on 26 April 2014
I really struggled to finish this book. Pages and pages of useless description. There wasn't one likeable character,nothing happens !
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on 9 January 2003
It's very rare that you find a book that makes you laugh out loud - and so it's worth treasuring it when you do find one. Mr Biswas is a tragi-comic character who by rights should be up there with Reggie Perrin. His attempts to break free from the sprawling Tulsi family and his desire to make a place for himself in the world make for a sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious conflict. Naipaul's style is reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in its warmth and magic, while the book is a comfortable and enjoyable read.
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