I was immediately drawn into V. S. Naipaul’s Half a Life. Naipaul’s narrative style is smooth and comforting. It sucked me into the story from page one and it’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a book with an author that has the same skill. This book was most DEFINITELY needed at this time of year. Exams are over and it’s holiday time, so back to the books. I’m glad I chose this one.
This story is tragic and the protagonist, unredeemable. I felt no sympathy for him whatsoever, but I was compelled to know more about his life. Willie Chandran is the son of a Brahmin man and his low caste, “backwards” wife. He is the son of a defiant and self-loathing father. This self-loathing is something that we see is transferred from father to son. Although Willie loathes his father and everything his father is in life, he himself cannot escape these very qualities: self-loathing, hollowness, emptiness.
At first I found myself striving for Willie to succeed, to raise himself from his poverty and to succeed in England. But Willie lives a completely unsatisfying life. He is not satisfied with his career, with his schooling, with his social life, and most prominently, with his sexual endeavours. He notices sexuality in other men: Percy’s well-dressed physical presentation, the muscular thighs of a worker in Africa, Anna’s half-brother sensually stroking his thigh. I would equate his attention to the power and prowess of the men around him to the noticeable lack of such qualities in himself. Time after time Willie leaves his encounters with women completely unsatisfied. He is unable to move beyond a basic physical relationship to connect on a deeper, more meaningful level. Gracia, the one woman with who he feels the greatest and most passionate connection, is the one women he cannot have as both she and he are married to others.
His actions are self-sabotaging. He seeks what he cannot attain and brings about his own destruction, but Willie never seems to realize that it is he that is the source of his own downfall. Perhaps that is why he has such a compelling tale. He encompasses the nature of human vice. He stands for desire, torment, longing, shallowness, emptiness. Willie is what most people fear. Although he makes attempts at success (studying abroad, writing a novel, moving amongst the elite), he remains attached to his past. His is unable to move–at least mentally– past the caste of his father. In his mind and his being, he remains trapped by the failures of his family. He lacks ambition and motivations and moves through life on the backs of others. It is for these reasons I say he is an unredeemable character. It is because he never seems to truly desire to better himself and never provides a reason for his misdemeanours and transgressions.
This book was an excellent read. I could hardly put it down and when I did, I couldn’t wait to return to the story. And now that it’s the Christmas break, it’s time to power on to the next novel!