Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Being Nasty to Naipaul

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Being Nasty to Naipaul

Article excerpt

The setting of the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica was idyllic, the content less so. On the second day, the Nobel Prize-winning Caribbean poet Derek Walcott premiered a stinging attack in verse on his contemporary (and fellow Nobel laureate), the Trinidadian-born novelist V S Naipaul.

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"I'm going to be nasty," announced Walcott at the end of an enthusiastically received reading session, and proceeded to read "The Mongoose", a long, vituperative poem which opened with the couplet: "I have been bitten. I must avoid infection/Or else I'll be as dead as Naipaul's fiction."

The poem launches a savagely humorous demolition of Naipaul's later novels Half a Life and Magic Seeds: "The plots are forced, the prose sedate and silly/The anti-hero is a prick named Willie." Further on, Walcott expresses disbelief that this latter-day Naipaul can be the same author as the one who wrote the masterpiece A House for Mr Biswas.

The motivation for this attack seems to be a mix of the personal and the political. Walcott criticises newspaper editors for indulging Naipaul's controversial public persona. And a mention of "the English Guardian" in the poem appears to be a reference to Naipaul's essay on Walcott, published in that paper in August 2007. While it praised Walcott's work many took it to be a back-handed compliment, as Naipaul enthused about the poet's writing from his teenage years in the 1940s, implying he hadn't written anything as good since. …

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