A House for Mr. Biswas was V. S. Naipaul’s fourth novel, following three earlier efforts that were essentially all comedies of manners set in the author’s homeland of Trinidad. This predominantly comic novel, which made Naipaul a major figure in world literature, was inspired by the story of his own father.
We follow Mr. Biswas over a 50-year history with a backdrop of significant cultural changes in Trinidad, the most ethnically diverse nation in the Caribbean. The story is widely recognized as the first work by Naipaul that deserved serious recognition. In 1998, the novel made The Modern Library’s list of the best 100 novels in the English language.
An attempt to adapt the novel into a stage musical in 1961 failed, but the experience provided one of the all-time weirdest entertainment ironies. Though set in Trinidad, the characters—like Naipaul’s family—are immigrants from India, thus making their way from one British colony to another. When the musical production collapsed, composer Monty Norman refashioned the tune for a song called “Bad Sign, Good Sign” into the theme for a new movie based on a popular series of novels about a very British secret agent. And so, a song originally written to illuminate the condition of those living under the auspices of British imperialism became the instantly-recognized theme for perhaps the second most famous 20th-century icon of that imperialist nation: Bond, James Bond.