April 23, 2021

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

A House for Mr Biswas, published in 1961, is one of the imperishable novels of the 20th century: Teju Cole

1 min read

NaipaulA House for Mr Biswas is episodic and packed with conflict. Mr Biswas subverts heroic convention: he is smart and funny, but also often petulant, mean and unsympathetic. His enemies, who are mostly his relatives, are largely unlikable, but they also have their admirable moments. The narrative of the novel is propelled by a clear goal – the acquisition of the titular house – which, it becomes apparent, can only be achieved by the most exhaustively circuitous route. It is a novel of epic length, formal perfection, and contains two notable peculiarities: its setting, which, being domestic, is unusual for an epic; and its geographical location, Trinidad, an important island in the Caribbean but not a particularly influential one on the world stage. And yet, this severely delimited context gave VS Naipaul an entire world of experience and feeling on which to draw. A House for Mr Biswas, published in 1961, is one of the imperishable novels of the 20th century.

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