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on 2 August 2017
I've had this book on my shelf for years and finally picked it up to read. It is loaded with pathos and written in a quirky manner that reminded me of Dickens - but in the end I gave up on it. The story didn't seem to be going anywhere, Biswas was the most contemptible character for whom I had no empathy - and I guess I will never find out if he redeems himself because I just can't bring myself to care
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on 6 August 2017
I have loved this book since I first read it in 1962. It has remained fresh, poignant, funny and at times terribly sad. I now live in the West Indies and re-reading it, I can understand it as if reading a new book. Although it's set in Trinidad and I live on another island it is extraordinary how little has changed. A wonderful read.
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on 27 April 2017
I really enjoyed this.
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on 18 July 2017
Brilliant book
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on 6 June 2017
A thoroughly enjoyable read!
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on 30 March 2017
I engaged with the Novel immediately . It is easy to read . Every line has impact . It is funny and tragic . The character Mr . Biswas is lovable and the victim of fate . A great read .
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on 26 July 2014
A long, and at times, tedious novel. Not an easy read
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This book has just been and discussed at the book group of which I am a member. Everyone found something to like in it, but opinions overall differed a lot. It tells of Mr. Biswas, a Trinidadian Hindu (and from a brahmin family, so high-caste), from his birth to his death at the age of 46 (that is no spoiler - we are told of it in the first chapter). The character is based on Naipaul's father, and his son, Anand, on Naipaul himself. Mr. Biswas lives through extreme poverty and difficulty, constantly (as an adult) struggling to assert his individuality in the face of his wife's large and extended family, the Tulsis. His dream is to have his own house and he makes a number of attempts to do so, all more or less doomed until the end of the book, when he has a measure of (very qualified) success - again, we know about that right from the start.

It is a complex book. The society on which it centres, that of Indians living in Trinidad, has its own rules and standards, and I found it fascinating to read about these and see how they worked themselves out. There are constant rows, but they are also supportive and dutiful in times of crisis. Husbands beat their wives and wives their children, but this is almost like an expected ritual, and there is even some pride taken in the effectiveness of these beatings, as if they are a necessary part of family life. Families respect the 'pundit', the wise man in their midst who performs quasi-religious rituals (for example, to bless Mr. Biswas's house at one point), even to the extent that when the pundit decrees that baby Biswas has an unlucky sneeze, everyone believes him.

In the midst of all this is Mr. Biswas, usually sceptical and trying to be himself. And what is he? He can be foolish, impulsive, petulant, naive, sarcastic, rude, and negligent. About halfway through the book, he suffers what is clearly a nervous breakdown of some kind. Yet he has an enquiring mind, reads widely (Marcus Aurelius, Epictitus, Dickens and much more - he likes reading wiring diagrams and scientific manuals as well) and has a strange kind of resourceful courage that keeps him going.

There is a lot in this book. It is often amusing. When Mr. Biswas gets a job as a reporter for the Port of Spain Sentinel, it becomes very funny indeed (he writes grotesque sensational stories for them). Naipaul has a considerable gift for description, and many scenes in the book, fully described, are vivid. Occasionally we get an insight into the extreme poverty endured by some of the characters. There is a wide range of interesting characters - Shama, Mr. Biswas's wife, Mrs. Tulsi, Tara his wealthy aunt, Seth, the character known as W.C. Tuttle because he has a large collection of book by that author (who wrote Westerns featuring Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens), Owad, the 'young god' who goes to England and comes back with medical training and an absurd degree of self-importance, and others.

As the book moves on, and especially in the final 100 pages or so, the mood changes and it becomes reflective and almost elegaic. Mr. Biswas (movingly) remembers his mother's kindness to him - he has thought little about her as an adult ; his work obliges him to visit the destitute people of Port of Spain and the surrounding area ; the family has a happy holiday at the beach ; Anand faces the trials of the exhibition exam., which may give him opportunity for further study after school ; they get a new Ford Prefect and delight in it ; and Mr. Biswas becomes aware that he is a grown man, the head of a family of young people, no longer children, who will branch out in their own way. His relationship with his wife, always complex and ambivalent, becomes more clearly defined, and his death, when it comes, is beautifully and very movingly handled in an understated way.

... and I could go on. This is a 'big' book in its scope and range, and an unusual one. It has been much praised, as has its Nobel-prize-winning author. I took great pleasure in reading it and found it stimulating, thought-provoking and involving, and that seems good enough reason for giving it five stars.
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Wonderful read, highly entertaining with laugh-out-loud moments yet touchingly sad as well.
The novel opens shortly before the death of Mr Biswas, with his fear of losing his home. In the narrative that follows, charting Mr Biswas' life, forever vulnerable to the whims of others, and with no place to call his own, we come to see why the house has such significance for him.
For much of his life lack of money compels him to share a large communal house with his wife's family, overseen by the stern and unpredictable matriarch Mrs Tulsi. In his descriptions of the 'shifting, tangled, multifarious relationships' of the Tulsis come many of the novel's most vividly comic moments:

'To combat W C Tuttle's gramophone Chinta and Govind had been giving a series of pious singings from the Ramayana....she sang very well. Govind sang less mellifluously: he partly whined and partly grunted, from his habit of singing while lying on his belly, Caught in this crossfire of song, which sometimes lasted a whole evening, Mr Biswas, listening, listening, would on a sudden rush in pants and vest to the inner room and bang on the partition of Govind's room and bang on the partition of W C Tuttle's drawingroom.
The Tuttles never replied. Chinta sang with added zest. Govind sometimes only chuckled between couplets, making it appear to be part of his song.'


"One of the sons-in-law was invariably responsible for precipitating Mrs Tulsi's faint. He was now hounded by silence and hostility. If he attempted to make friendly talk many glances instantly reproved him for his frivolity. If he moped in a corner or went up to his room he was condemned for his callousness and ingratitude. He was expected to stay in the hall and show all the signs of contrition and unease.. He waited for the sounds of footsteps coming from the Rose Room; he accosted a busy, offended sister and, ignoring snubs, made whispered enquiries about Mrs Tulsi's condition. Next morning he came down, shy and sheepish. Mrs Tulsi would be better. She would ignore him. But that evening forgiveness would be in the air. The offender would be spoken to as if nothing had happened, and he would respond with eagerness.'

Brilliant observations on human behaviour, an absolute must-read.
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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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