The Enigma of Arrival

A Man Out of Place: Finding a Home in The Enigma of Arrival

In 1971, V.S. Naipaul told Ian Hamilton, "It took me a long time to see that I had no society to write about. I had to write differently. I had to look at the world afresh." Sixteen years later, he would publish The Enigma of Arrival, his most autobiographical novel, taken by some as a memoir. Like Naipaul himself, it is a complex, ambiguous little book, carrying all the confession of a standard memoir but the fine craft and imagination of a work of fiction. It could not, however, be written any other way. Central to the text is Naipaul's understanding of himself as a first a novelist, and then a person. In a 1984 interview, Stephen Schiff observed, "This is how he talks, as if he were observing from afar the creature who bears his name. He says 'one' instead of 'I' he refers to himself as 'the writer' and sometimes as 'the man.' 'I do it instinctively, distinguishing between them, between writer and man'" (Schiff 139). The Enigma of Arrival is a highly constructed piece of prose, just as Naipaul's life has been a highly constructed series of events orchestrated by his insatiable ambition and quixotic quest for an ideal homeland. The other major theme of The...

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