The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul

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The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, also more generally know with his abbreviated name of V.S. Naipaul, is an English novelist who also indulged into writing essays throughout this life which he primarily spent in the United Kingdom. Originally, Naipaul comes from Trinidad where he was born on August 17, 1932 while also inhibiting Indian descent. Digging into his personal life, Naipaul was married to an English woman by the name of Patricia Hale for a duration of 41 years before she died with cancer in 1996. During his time with his Patricia, he was spotted numerous times in prostitution centers in London while also having a rather casual affair with Margaret Gooding, an Argentinean woman who was from Angolan descent. Today, he shares his life with his current wife, Nadrina Naipaul, who is a Pakistani journalist. Turning more towards his professional career as a writer, Naipaul has won numerous awards for his great strides in literature. In 1964, he won the Hawthornden Prize, in 1971 he captured the Booker Prize and in 2001, he was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature. As he drew most of his attention in his writing towards realism and post-colonialism, his most gifted and notable works in his fiction creations were A Bend in the River, The Enigma of Arrival and A House for Mr. Biswas while turning to his non-fiction establishments, he was known for An Area of Darkness, India: A Million Mutinies Now and A Turn in the South.

The novel, Enigma of Arrival, indulges us into the lone and calm English town of Wiltshire where the narrator, commonly perceived as Naipaul himself, rents out a small little cottage with rather large fields surrounding it and on the side, a river where the water flows so elegantly. Coming from Trinidad, he is rather unwary and has no idea what there is to expect in these new surrounding of his life. In the first section of the book labeled as “Jack’s Garden,” Naipaul describes a garden full of life and subtleness and greets a man called Jack who is the owner of this property. Throughout the chapter, he realizes that Jack has not always lived there and that Jack has created this beauty with his bare hands which influences the narrator to believe that the surrounding of a home indicates the person’s characteristics. As Jack dies in the dampness of his cottage and garden as he gets old, new people move in which indicates a change of guard. The story also takes a rather twisted turn as the garden turns into a farm under the leadership of the new owners. Naipaul is rather modest and conservative though, living life by himself in this rather rural but arguably, comfortable place while taking in the acceptance of change.

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In the second chapter, “The Journey”, he focuses more on his experiences and thoughts when he first set foot in England. He recalls being quite oblivious to the English culture and that he was only this young, immature teenager who received a scholarship to attend Oxford. He indulges into a rather intense autobiography about how he reflects on the English who have changed him in a way that needed him to change his cultural grid. What furthermore comes to his mind is his experiences in a boarding house that he stayed in England and how he lived in Trinidad before occupying this subtle cottage in Wiltshire. He also reflects on his development as a writer and soon he realizes that however badly he wanted to leave England, he couldn’t, because his audience and employment were rested in this country. Surely enough, he comes to the point where he summarizes all the great work he has completed to that date and looks deeper into the differences between two gazes – colonial and imperial. He notices that the colonial relates to the book 1984 by Aldous Huxley and how the Big Brother surveillance was something that he couldn’t understand while on the other hand, his imperial view led him to control his characters in his stories while also indulging him into his narrative energy which couldn’t be interfered with.

Next up is the chapter “Ivy”, where Naipaul makes a vast and first appearance with his landlord who drives by him in his flashy and elegant car. Naipaul views him as a man with high social privileges and compares him to a man with a fringe what he previously sees who is the exact opposite as he writes about how life has begun differently for these two men, how one values something more than the other and how culture has created each man to who he is today. He comes back to talking about “Jack’s Garden” again and how his visual interpretation leads this garden to be a state of art as he compares it to two painters, Constable and Giorgio de Chirico. The gardener, Pitton, is also mentioned as he one of the servants for the house and is someone who cant be bothered to look for another job since he is settling for less than he could possibly achieve in life. This makes Naipaul think and it throws him back to memories of how he has dealt with failure in his writing and as a human being. He relates to how important it is to be accepted by other people and how a true home can lead to someone’s well being. All in all, he creates a certain amount of hope as he looks into the future and sees time catching up with him.

In the last two chapters, “Rooks” and “The Ceremony of Farewell”, the narrator talks about Alan, the ‘other’ writer in this novel who is a native towards this culture and understands the concept of the English. The most important part is the painting of Chirico which is identical to the name of this novel and how habituation is what creates vision and imagination. It also talks about how the journey of getting to a place creates the arrival and the thought of the place as Naipaul states that living in Wiltshire is another surprise in his life, however has gave him the power to accept chance. The story ends with the tragic death of Naipaul’s sister in Trinidad and the description of the Hindu ceremony that follows to honor her life.

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In a quote in the first chapter Naipaul states: “This idea of winter and snow had always excited me; but in England the word had lost some of its romance for me, because the winters I had found in England had seldom been as extreme as I had imagined they would be when I was far away in my tropical island.” (5). The seasons of a country do reflect the setting that it portrays and since England is mostly known for being rainy and gloomy, it might be looked at as a rather disliked place for tourists. However, coming from tropical islands, Naipaul experiences the cold weather as this influences his cultural grid to the change in climates. On the other hand, he expected more of the English winters and somewhat sounds disappointed in the adaption that he has to make. He tends to compare his old home with his new one and talks about the lack of romance that he has with this place. A certain ingredient of a lovely home is missing in England.

In the second chapter, Naipaul recalls himself traveling to New York as he takes out his pencil: “When you licked the pencil the color became bright; dry, the color was dull. I had bought the pad and the pencil because I was traveling to become a write, and I had to start.” (106). Many different people travel for different things such as adventure, business, leisure, etc. That said, Naipaul was on a mission to capture the world with his own two eyes and mark down everything he saw which was new to him. He wanted to expand his cultural views and then felt the need to reflect on how he could relate to it in his own mind. Experience through travel is arguably stronger than the highest possible education as it indulges someone into a visual and emotional first person perspective on how the rush of the city lights can frighten you or how the background music in a bar can remind you of home. Naipaul travels for his own reason, for his profession of creating a diary which will keep memories of life, safe and sound.

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Soon enough, Naipaul starts to appreciate his surroundings as he recalls: “Whatever my mood, and how ever long or short my separation from the cottage, whether I had gone on an overseas assignment of many months of had simply done to Salisbury or had done for my afternoon walk, the first sight of the cottage on my return, breaking in upon me at the end of the short, dark lane from the public road, never failed to delight me.” (193). This quote shows a certain increase of maturity and respect over the years that he has been living in the house for. As he comes back to his home, sweet home, which at first sounds rather gloomy, he embraces it as it catches his eyes for being what it is. He appreciates the simplicity and recognizes the beauty of his surroundings as he is always content that nothing has changed, that it has been left untouched. It shows a rather strong character of the author since he doesn’t look for tremendous wealth or a preppy public. His peace with the world is calm and collected as he enjoys the way of life, the beautiful creation of mankind.

In the other book that was written by Naipaul, An Area of Darkness, he does a rather good job in discriminating the things he doesn’t like about a country. I see him doing that in this book too even though it is his country of residency. He complains about a few things, however I like how he appreciates the simple and important things in life. I feel like he has a great insight on what it means to be simplistic and not spoilt as he focuses on the values of a home, the people that surround him and in the meanwhile, he gives us a very passionate descriptive image of the cottage, the people and his life towards all those factors. I adored the fact that he recalled most of his past journeys in life as I could relate to every single one of them well since I’ve done some extensive traveling myself, all over the world. I see him as someone to look up to, someone who talks from experience and who has seen the world. His perspective and opinions do get in the way of his narratives and novels at times and this book was a rather slow and mellow read. However his grace of writing enhances people to expand their knowledge and culture to the world and shows them that traveling can make them brighter people. On another note, he dedicates this book to his loving brother, Shiva Naipaul, who died from a heart attack. His family values are never forgotten which inspires me.


  • Naipaul, V.S. The Enigma of Arrival. New York: Viking Press. 1987. Print.
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