Half a Life

V.S. Naipaul

Don’t be intimidated by the Nobel Prize-winning author Naipaul. His latest novel, Half A Life, is written in a simple, economic style, as passive and detached as the main character, Willie Chandran. Dysfunction kicks in when Willie’s Brahmin father, out of a Gandhian sense of sacrifice, marries an "untouchable." Willie runs from his ignoble identity, ending up in London writing for the BBC, in a Portuguese colony in Africa with his mixed-race groupie wife and in affairs with African teenagers and married housewives. Willie blames his attempts to achieve success—professionally and sexually—on the shame and ineffectiveness of his father. "Everything has a bias," he discovers. "The world should stop, but it goes on." Willie comes to terms with his sense of self by leaving his wife and moving to Germany to live with his sister. Your identity—you can’t leave home without it, but where do you go to discover it?