He was loathed by third world intellectuals and called, among other things, a “restorer of the comforting myths of the white race” (Chinua Achebe), “a despicable lackey of neocolonialism” (H.B. Singh) and a “cold and sneering prophet” (Eric Roach).
He made enemies as easily as sipping tea. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.” He physically abused Margaret Murray, his mistress of many years. He spoke openly about disliking overweight people and about visiting prostitutes. A bindi on a woman’s forehead signifies, he said, “My head is empty.”
He had as many ardent defenders. Ian Buruma, the editor of The New York Review of Books, thought it was a mistake to view Naipaul as “a dark man mimicking the prejudices of the white imperialists.” He wrote: “This view is not only superficial, it is wrong. Naipaul’s rage is not the result of being unable to feel the native’s plight; on the contrary, he is angry because he feels it so keenly.”
At its best, Naipaul’s work made these questions nearly moot. He was a self-styled heir to Joseph Conrad, and a legitimate one. “This is what I would ask of the