VS Naipaul, the Nobel laureate, who had so many gifts as a writer — suppleness, wit, an unsparing eye for detail — that he could seemingly do whatever he wanted, died on Saturday at the age of 85.
The death of Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul who wrote more than 30 books and won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2001, was announced by his family in a statement on Saturday. His family said ‘he died surrounded by those he loved having lived a life which was full of wonderful creativity and endeavour.”
VS Naipaul who was a walking sack of contradictions, in some ways the archetypal writer of the shifting and migratory 20th century, was Indian by descent, Trinidadian by birth. Naipaul attended Oxford and lived in London, where he came to wear elegant suits and move in elite social circles. “When I talk about being an exile or a refugee I’m not just using a metaphor,” he said. “I’m speaking literally.”
His breakthrough book, after three comic works set in the Caribbean, was “A House for Mr. Biswas” (1961), a masterpiece composed when Naipaul was 29. It has lost none of its sweep and sly humor. It’s about a character, based on Naipaul’s father, who begins his life as a sign painter in Trinidad and Tobago and improbably rises to become a journalist. The first sign he paints reads, in words the industrious Naipaul seemed to take to heart: “IDLERS KEEP OUT BY ORDER.”
Geordie Greig, editor of the Mail on Sunday and a close friend, said his death leaves a “gaping hole in Britain’s literary heritage”, but there is “no doubt” that his “books live on”.
American travel writer Paul Theroux, who had a bitter 15-year feud with Sir Vidia before reconciling, said: “He will go down as one of the greatest writers of our time.”
Paying tribute to his friend, who he said had been in poor health, Theroux added:
“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.”