2016: 65. A House For Mr. Biswas

"Ten weeks before he died, Mr. Mohun Biswas, a journalist of Sikkim Street, St. James, Port of Spain, was sacked.”

A House for Mr Biswas, VS Naipul 

I tried so, so hard with this book, which is one of the few remaining Modern Library Top 100 that I haven’t read.  Took it out of the library twice. But I found it to be such a slog. I’ve read other books by Naipul, and enjoyed them.  And this book is beautifully written - the prose is amazing.  But I found the protaganist so unappealling that it was painful to get through, particularly because it’s the kind of book that is less about plot than than detailing Mr. Biswas’s life.  And I could not get behind Mr. Biswas.

Mr. Biswas is born in Trinidad, into the insular Indian community there (indeed, there is very little Trinidad for much of the book).  He is born poor (and cursed!) but he eventually becomes a sign painter, and marries a the daughter of a wealthy family.  They take him in and feed him, provide him work.  But he HATES them, and is constantly warring with them, leaving and coming back and trying to make his own way.  His dream, of course, is a house of his own, and the book depicts his struggles as he tries to realize that dream.

The problem is that he is such a misogynistic, self-centered, asshole that it pained me to get through the book.  I get what Naipul is doing, I appreciate his prose, but the way Mr. Biswas treats his wife, his children, and frankly her family who did nothing but take him in while he had nothing makes him so so difficult to read about.  Particularly in a book that is about nothing but his interior life.  Whether or not Naipul agrees that Biswas is terrible is not the point - the point is I did not enjoy reading about him, and the other qualities of the book couldn’t help me overcome that barrier.

Modern Library Top 100 Novels

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017