V.S. Naipaul, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in literature, died on August 11th, 2018, just days before his 86th birthday. The author of such acclaimed novels as A House for Mr. Biswas, the Booker Prize winner In a Free State, and A Bend in the River, and non-fiction works as The Middle Passage and An Area of Darkness, Naipaul also had a well-deserved reputation as a dyspeptic and difficult personality, all of which came to light in the highly regarded memoir, Sir Vidia’s Shadow, written in 1998 by his former protégé, the novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux, whose three decade friendship with Naipaul had just come to an end.
On October 28th, 1998, Richard Wolinsky and Richard A. Lupoff had a chance to speak with Paul Theroux about his memoir, about V.S. Naipaul, and about the creation of Sir Vidia’s Shadow.
Three years after the interview, V.S. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. Quoting to the Washington Post, ‘Theroux, who later reconciled with Naipaul, had visited with him recently.“We had some very ups and downs over the years, said Theroux, but there was great satisfaction in reconnecting,” he said. “It took him a long time to make his mark, but when he did, it happened in a big way.”’
From the NY Times Obituary on V.S. Naipaul:
“The writer Paul Theroux, who was one of Mr. Naipaul’s closest friends, had a falling out with Mr. Naipaul not long after the marriage to Ms. Alvi. In his book “Sir Vidia’s Shadow” (1998), Mr. Theroux documented the arc of their complicated literary friendship, which began in Uganda in 1966 and ended abruptly in 1997 after Mr. Theroux saw books he had written and inscribed to his mentor listed for sale in an auction catalog. He depicts Mr. Naipaul as a great inspiration as a writer, but also petty, cruel and needy. The two men later reconciled.”
From the Washington Post Obituary on V.S. Naipaul
<< “He will go down as one of the greatest writers of our time,” Theroux told The Associated Press during a telephone interview, citing his mastery of writing about families and colonialism. “He also never wrote falsely. He was a scourge of anyone who used a cliché or an un-thought out sentence. He was very scrupulous about his writing, very severe, too.”
As his literary stature grew, so did his reputation as a difficult, irascible personality. Naipaul was a private man and did not have many friends, but his personal life entered the public domain when Theroux, whose relationship with Naipaul had soured, published a stinging memoir about Naipaul in 1998.
“Sir Vidia’s Shadow” described Naipaul as a racist, sexist miser who threw terrifying tantrums and beat up women.
Naipaul ignored Theroux’s book, but he did authorize a candid biography that confirmed some of Theroux’s claims. >>
An extended version of the interview can be found as a Radio Wolinsky podcast.