A Biography For Mr. Naipaul

I noticed The World is What It Is—Patrick French’s biography of V.S. Naipaul—last week at the bookstore, but I wasn’t particularly in the mood to read 500 pages about someone as unpleasant as Naipaul. Dwight Garner’s review of the book makes me want to reconsider:

Well, the reader thinks, here we go: Mr. French’s 550-page biography will be a long string of bummers, a forced march through the life of a startlingly original writer with an ugly, remote personality.

The good news is that Mr. French, a young British journalist, is certainly unafraid to face unpleasant facts about his subject. But the better news about “The World Is What It Is” is this: it’s one of the sprightliest, most gripping, most intellectually curious and, well, funniest biographies of a living writer (Mr. Naipaul is 76) to come along in years.

Mr. French is a relative rarity among biographers, a real writer, and at his best he sounds like a combination of that wily bohemian Geoff Dyer and that wittily matter-of-factual cyborg Michael Kinsley.

Even the cameos in Mr. French’s biography are crazily vivid. Here is his hole-in-one description of the editor Francis Wyndham: “Popular, gentle, solitary and eccentric, Wyndham lived with his mother, wore heavy glasses and high-waisted trousers, gave off random murmurs and squeaks and moved with an amphibian gait.”

You can read it all here.

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