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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

Sir Vidia's Shadow

Paul Theroux

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To buy Sir Vidia's Shadow

Title: Sir Vidia's Shadow
Author: Paul Theroux
Genre: Memoir
Written: 1998
Length: 358 pages
Availability: Sir Vidia's Shadow - US
Sir Vidia's Shadow - UK
Sir Vidia's Shadow - Canada
Sir Vidia's Shadow - India
La sombra de Naipaul - España
  • A Friendship across Five Continents

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Our Assessment:

A : a fascinating story of two unusual men, very well related.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The American Scholar A Winter/1999 Jeffrey Meyers
Boston Globe C 18/10/1998 Askold Melnyczuk
Christian Science Monitor C- 8/10/1998 Rockwell Gray
Daily Telegraph A- 23/11/1998 Ian Hamilton
Far Eastern Econ. Rev. C+ 10/12/1998 Martin Booth
The Guardian B- 28/11/1998 Sally Vincent
India Today D- 13/11/1998 Tavleen Singh
The LA Times B 25/10/1998 Richard Eder
London Rev. of Books . 13/5/1999 A.N.Wilson
National Review C 26/10/1998 James Bowman
New Statesman B- 22/1/1999 Will Self
The NY Times C 22/9/1998 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 27/9/1998 Sarah Kerr
San Francisco Chronicle . 25/10/1998 Bill Barich
The Spectator A 5/12/1998 Frederic Raphael
The Times A- 26/11/1998 Derwent May
TLS A- 4/12/1998 Karl Miller
Wall St. Journal C 23/9/1998 Cynthia Crossen

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus whatsoever. Absolutely none. (Note that the English reviews tend to be far more forgiving and generous than the generally more petty (or discerning) American ones. Draw your own conclusions.)

  From the Reviews:
  • "But this book -- as I know from my own experience with Naipaul -- provides the most thorough and deadly accurate account of his intriguing, elusive, and fascinating character." - Jeffrey Meyers, The American Scholar

  • "(A)n angry and ill-advised settling of scores. It is also a startlingly unreflective and joyless study." - Askold Melnyczuk, Boston Globe

  • "(G)ossipy, repetitive, and self-indulgent." - Rockwell Gray, Christian Science Monitor

  • "What a pathetic, venomous little book this is. It is only worth reading if you detest V.S. Naipaul, despise his work and are looking for confirmation that you are right. Otherwise the book is a waste of time." - Tavleen Singh, India Today

  • "The final chapters are an embarrassment -- full of self-pity, scatological barbs directed at the loathsome, "nightmarish" image of Lady Naipaul, and childish petulance toward Sir Vidia himself." - James Bowman, National Review

  • "(I)t's hard to know what sort of book it is at all. I think it should be more properly described as a suicide note for two reputations." - Will Self, New Statesman

  • "Perhaps Mr. Theroux learned his lessons too well: in depicting his onetime friend as cold, mercenary and unforgiving, he has written a cold, mercenary and unforgiving book." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "All (Theorux)'s done is write a memoir that feels less like a memoir than an onslaught of sticks and stones." - Sarah Kerr, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Sir Vidia's Shadow is a brave, intelligent book, rich in anecdote and beautifully written, but it's also vengeful and damaging in places. It belongs to the literature of transgression, wherein an injured party -- the betrayed -- turns into a betrayer and bends the rules to settle a score." - Bill Barich, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Gore Vidal, move over; never was gall more palatably served." - Frederic Raphael, The Spectator

  • "(F)luent, and often brilliant. It goes by like one of the trains in his travel books. The stories it tells are none of them dull. (...) An ill-feeling, as of rivalry and rejection, is evident in the book, tempered by a surviving sense of Naipaul's dedication to his art and of the magical wounded power of his personality." - Karl Miller, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       We do not like tell-all books. We do not like authors ragging on other authors, or anyone airing other people's dirty laundry. We do not like sour grapes. Generally, that is. We damn well liked this. Part of the reason is that Theroux does not really do any of the above.
       Theroux got relatively bad press for his supposed betrayal of trust, this book appearing at about the same time as Joyce Maynard's book (with its Salinger exposé). Ignore the press (always good advice) and read the book.
       Paul Theroux and V.S.Naipaul first met in Africa in the 1960's, and they remained close friends, of sorts, for some three decades. Theroux was just beginning his writing career when they met, Naipaul, though still only in his early thirties, had already achieved success and was a mentor to the younger author. This book follows that friendship for its duration, as Theroux becomes more successful (at least financially) and until there is finally a rupture.
       They are both odd fellows, Theroux and Naipaul, as this book reconfirms. We admire Naipaul greatly -- as Theroux says, several of his works are true masterpieces. We also admire Theroux, though his fiction is not nearly in the same class as Naipaul's. They are two authors whose oeuvre we have read practically in its entirety. For all our appreciation of their talents, they never really appealed to us as people. They do not seem particularly nice -- but then that does not matter much when it comes to their books.
       The friendship Theroux speaks of is an odd one. It is not particularly friendly, for one. But both men seem to enjoy each other's company, each deriving some pleasure or benefit from it. It is an interesting progression and sequence of events -- and prolonged separations -- that Theroux describes.
       Theroux's talents are ideally suited for this book, which combines the best of his travel writing and his fiction. It is even a generous book, however one-sided it may be. Theroux does give Naipaul a fair shake, and reveals more of his own life as well. It is a fine read, sad and funny and fascinating. Strongly recommended.

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Sir Vidia's Shadow: Reviews: Paul Theroux: V.S.Naipaul: Other books by Paul Theroux under review: Books by V.S. Naipaul under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Paul Theroux has written almost two dozen novels and a number of excellent travel books, the most famous being The Great Railway Bazaar. He has taught in Uganda and Singapore, and he lived in England for a long time. Several of his books have been filmed (including The Mosquito Coast) and a TV series was made of his stories, The London Embassy and The Consul's Files.

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© 1999-2022 the complete review

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