Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Enigma of Arrival

The Enigma of Arrival is a 1987 autobiographical novel by V. S. Naipaul. This book takes place mostly in the English countryside. Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. I have read a couple of his other novels and enjoy his writing. I feel surrounded by the world he creates, as if I'm a part of it. You can read an excerpt of this book at the Nobel Prize site.

from the back of the book:
The story of a writer's singular journey -from one place to another, from the British colony of Trinidad to the ancient countryside of England, and from one state of mind to another- this is perhaps Naipaul's most autobiographical work. Yet it is also woven through with remarkable invention to make it a rich and complex novel.
favorite quotes:
How quickly his time had passed! How quickly a man's time passed! So quickly, in fact, that it was possible within a normal span to witness, to comprehend, two or three active life cycles in succession.
In that unlikely setting, in the ancient heart of England, a place where I was truly an alien, I found I was given a second chance, a new life, richer and fuller than any I had had elsewhere. And in that place, where at the beginning I had looked only for remoteness and a place to hide, I did some of my best work. I traveled, I wrote, I ventured out, brought back experiences to my cottage, and wrote. The years passed. I healed. The life around me changed. I changed.
The book's title comes from this painting by Giorgio de Chirico:

The Guardian calls it "a sad pastoral" and closes with this: "There is one word I can find nowhere in the text of The Enigma of Arrival. That word is 'love', and a life without love, or one in which love has been buried so deep that it can't come out, is very much what this book is about and what makes it so very, very sad." The New York Times has a qualified positive review.

The London Review of Books says, "Naipaul’s ample unfolding book is of great beauty, delicacy and courage." The Telegraph calls Naipaul "an English prose stylist of the old school."

Kirkus Reviews calls it "unique among literary memoirs" and says,
Dense, often slow, it's a book of enormous subtle accretion but also of stripping away of self-pretense. It also offers a different, deeper sense of Naipaul's sensibility than has been seen: plugged as it is into cycles of ruin that are poetic, viscerally sad, yet ultimately beautiful, Naipaul's precious discomfort--that of the dis-cultured--has never seemed more palpable and moving.


  1. Haven't read this but have read other books by this author. I'll be checking the library for this one. Thanks for the review.


    1. I had never heard of this, only picking it up because of the author. I do like the way he writes.

  2. Love that painting. Not my usual style but it speaks to me somehow.

    1. It's not a painting that would normally attract me, either, but it does spark story ideas... It's part of a metaphysical series painted between 1909 & 1914

  3. I have never read Naipaul, always thought he seemed such a awkward man and I guess that put me off. But this sounds like a read I would like. It is at my local library, I will pick it up when I´m done with what I´m reading now. Thanks for the tip!

    1. I hope you like it. As I recall, A Bend in the River has been my favorite, but that was soooo long ago!