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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Literary Occasions


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To purchase Literary Occasions

Title: Literary Occasions
Author: V.S.Naipaul
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2003)
Length: 203 pages
Availability: Literary Occasions - US
Literary Occasions - UK
Literary Occasions - Canada
  • Essays
  • Introduced and edited by Pankaj Mishra
  • Written between 1964 and 2001
  • Includes Naipaul's Nobel Lecture
  • Includes the pieces previously published as Reading and Writing

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Our Assessment:

A- : fine collection -- but familiar material

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 6/3/2004 James Bradley
Harper's . 9/2003 Terry Eagleton
The Independent . 13/2/2004 David Dabydeen
The Independent . 11/2/2005 Christopher Hirst
New Statesman . 2/2/2004 Geoffrey Wheatcroft
The NY Times Book Rev. A 11/1/2004 Lynn Freed
The Observer . 18/1/2004 Robert McCrum
Sunday Telegraph . 1/2/2004 Nicholas Blincoe
Telegraph . 19/1/2004 Christopher Tayler
Times Higher Ed. Supp. . 23/1/2004 Andrew Robinson
TLS . 3/9/2004 Sunil Khilnani

  From the Reviews:
  • "Not many writers get to write their own epitaph, but it is hard not to feel that this is precisely what Naipaul is about in Literary Occasions. However far he journeys, the dark continent of his travels has always been himself, that displaced, self-created (and to his mind) self-creating creature." - James Bradley, The Age

  • "The volume charts the extraordinary spiral of displacements that make up Naipaul's career. (...) Literary Occasions, like most of Naipaul's writing about himself, is remarkable for its honest lucidity and stringent self-criticism." - Terry Eagleton, Harper's

  • "Writers are often untrustworthy when it comes to explaining the nature of their craft and calling, and Naipaul is no exception. He presents himself as an innocent explorer, each of his novels being heuristic voyages. The truth is that you can identify a Naipaul novel from its opening sentences. He is one of the most recognisable voices in modern fiction. His themes are consistent and obsessive" - David Dabydeen, The Independent

  • "Despite the ponderous title, this is an engaging guide to the writing life, full of interest for the would-be novelist." - Christopher Hirst, The Independent

  • "But there's nothing sharp when he turns to the living world of books. He is an exceptionally good and perceptive critic -- a few passages on Dickens are worth whole books by others -- and when he addresses the art of fiction he not only writes beautifully (as always) but with complete humility." - Geoffrey Wheatcroft, New Statesman

  • "The writing itself is a wonder of clarity, complex ideas given shape in simple English, and achieving that most difficult of tasks -- having writer and reader seem simultaneously to be makingthe same journey." - Lynn Freed, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Literary Occasions is deliberately a collection of fragments. But when the pieces of this broken mirror are reassembled in a single reading, we glimpse, through the smoke, the ironic smile of a contemporary writer of English whose vision is probably as nearly universal as it possible to be in the twenty-first century." - Robert McCrum, The Observer

  • "At times, one feels that Naipaul's editor, Pankaj Mishra, is selecting essays in the way that the Keystone Kops selected banana skins. Yet the evidence is that VS Naipaul is only too aware of this struggle between the higher and the lower in his art." - Nicholas Blincoe, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Naipaul's long-term readers will probably be familiar with many of the other more substantial essays as well. Nevertheless, the new book very usefully rounds up a selection of widely-scattered material, and it will clearly be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the enigma of V.S.Naipaul." - Christopher Tayler, Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Literary Occasions is yet another collection of V.S.Naipaul's non-fiction -- and, as was the case with The Writer and the World, it takes large chunks from previous Naipaul collections: almost half the pieces are from The Overcrowded Barracon, the long "Prologue to an Autobiography" is from Finding the Center, and all of the recent book Reading and Writing is reproduced here. There is some new material -- notably Naipaul's Nobel Lecture -- and a few obscurer pieces, such as Naipaul's foreword to a book by his father, but most of this is hardly new material for Naipaul-fans and the re-packaging of most of these pieces ("brought together for the first time" the flap copy exclaims) seems a bit hard to justify. On the other hand: it is good material, and certainly worth reading, and this selection -- heavy on the autobiographical -- does provide good background about various facets of Naipaul-as-writer in a single volume.

       Many of the pieces are strongly autobiographical, as Naipaul relates his writerly beginnings and the continuing issues of identity he is faced with -- first as being of Indian origin in Trinidad, and then as a foreigner (of a specific sort) in England. His is an unusual story of becoming a writer: he is driven, from an early age, by this ambition, but he constantly expresses a great lack of confidence in what he does, especially in his early efforts. He feels at a disadvantage in England, being without the easy and thorough familiarity of the natives, yet finally succeeds -- in large part by not being imitative but rather writing about the world he is familiar with.
       The forewords -- to his father's book and to a new edition of A House for Mr. Biswas -- are certainly of interest, and also provide biographical and autobiographical detail, specifically about Naipaul's father, and Naipaul's relationship with his father.
       In the second part of the book there are pieces in which Naipaul discusses the works of writers like the great Nirad Chaudhuri, Kipling, and Conrad -- very varied experiences of colonial life, presented in very different sorts of writing. Naipaul's perspective on all three is also of interest -- though the Kipling piece (a review of Cornell's Kipling in India) is quite small.
       Naipaul's Nobel Lecture, which closes the collection is an appropriate summing up (as one might expect), as Naipaul offers a two-worlds summa of his life and work.
       By the end one might feel that Naipaul harps a bit too much on his theme and his outsider status (and his particular (and opinionated) sort of brutal honesty can be wearing too), but his passion for a certain attitude towards writing -- and his emphasis on the personal over the political -- is a welcome one.
       A fine collection of very good pieces which together offer a fine introduction to Naipaul.

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Literary Occasions: Reviews: V.S.Naipaul: Other books by V.S.Naipaul under review: Books about V.S. Naipaul under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He attended University College, Oxford. In 2001 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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© 2003-2009 the complete review

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