Friday, July 27, 2012

Reflections: Half a Life

This is the first book of Naipaul's that I managed to finish. I don't understand why his writings and books are so highly acclaimed. I have started and abandoned his books, hoping that one day I will grow smart enough to finish one. Having finished this book, I still struggle to understand what makes this author so special. 

The protagonist is an Indian who, like several others, is unsure of what he wants from life. His cowardly and weak father is of little inspiration to him. He sees the nascent independent India as a lowly, frustrating place to live in, and aspires to get to the west and cultivate himself into a cultured, modern westerner. But he fails, or at the very least, grapples. He is yet again unsure of who he is and what he wants. He realizes that survival is hard, and just like his father, tries to take the easiest path that life offers to meander through his existence. This is a slim story of a man who fritters away half of his life - his prime, his youth - just because of sluggishness, laziness, cowardice, and a lack of substance or self-awareness. Upon entering a life of hedonism and comfort, he sails through life and time without a goal or purpose. One fine day, he reaches the peak of his wastefulness, and upon satiation, moves on to (hopefully) do something more with his life. 

This is what I got out of the book. Naipaul's tone is wry and dry throughout the book. He touches upon colonial hangover, the prejudices of the Indian caste-system and other related social mores, and the hunger that consumes most Indians to migrate to, and ape the west. Once in the West, we struggle with a dichotomous identity, neither fitting in nor standing out. We have read these themes in hundreds of books, so what makes this particular book special? I don't know. 

The story of how a man thoughtlessly and mindlessly squandered away half of his life by leeching onto someone is neither interesting nor inspiring. What did Naipaul hope to convey through this story (if it can be called that), I have no clue. The writing was insipid and boring, none of the characters were remotely likeable nor worthy of empathy, and the plot was completely flat. There was not a single thread of anything likeable. 

This is the account of a man who does nothing in life - hiding behind the shadows and indulging in the pleasures of the senses. Perhaps it's a subtle pointer at how most of us lead similar aimless lives? That even slothfulness satiates after a certain point? That we humans can't escape from dealing with self-awareness? Smart people should be kind enough to hammer into my pea-brain the reason and deeper significance of why this book and the author is so acclaimed. 


Anonymous said...

Interesting that a nobel prize winner could get that review from you. But I guess its possible... I somehow hope to see someone who'll give us the reason (for its victory) that you are looking for.

"Once in the West, we struggle with a dichotomous identity, neither fitting in nor standing out" - well, coincidence .. I was thinking along the same lines yesterday as I was trying to understand what it is that makes me feel empty here in the US. Sometimes I dont understand how to continue this meaningless life but I dont understand whether taking myself out of this life will make my life more meaningful, either...

SecondSight said...

I feel exactly the same way :). And I'm SUPER impressed that you managed to finish an entire book by the guy! :)

Neeraja said...

Anon - I hope to be enlightened soon! :)
The confusion and dichotomy with identity will continue as we try to assimilate bits and pieces of the west and the east...

SecondSight - oh good! :). It is a small book and I was determined to finish it this time!