Reflections: Half a Life
Blog :The Mind's Language
Date: 7/27/2012 5:46:00 PM
This is the first book of Naipaul's that I managed to finish. I don't understand why his writings and books are so highly acclaimed. I have started and abandoned his books, hoping that one day I will grow smart enough to finish one. Having finished his Nobel Prize wining book, I still struggle to understand what makes this book so special.
The protagonist is an Indian who, like several others, is unsure of what he wants from life. His cowardly and weak father is of little inspiration to him. He sees the nascent independent India as a lowly, frustrating place to live in, and aspires to get to the west and cultivate himself into a cultured, modern westerner. But, he fails, or at the very least, grapples. He is yet again unsure of who he is and what he wants. He realizes that survival is hard, and just like his father, tries to take the easiest path that life offers to meander through his existence. This is a slim story of a man who fritters away half of his life - his prime, his youth - just because of sluggishness, laziness, cowardice, and a lack of substance or self-awareness. Upon entering into a life of hedonism and comfort, he sails through life and time without a goal or purpose. One fine day, he reaches the peak of his wastefulness, and upon satiation, moves on to (hopefully) do something more with his life.
This is what I got out of the book. Naipaul's tone is wry and dry throughout the book. He touches upon colonial hangover, the prejudices of the Indian caste-system and other related social mores, and the hunger that consumes most Indians to migrate to, and ape the west. Once in the West, we struggle with a dichotomous identity, neither fitting in nor standing out. We have read these themes in hundreds of books, so what makes this particular book special? I don't know.
The story of how a man thoughtlessly and mindlessly squandered away half of his life by leeching onto someone is neither interesting nor inspiring. What did Naipaul hope to convey through this story (if it can be called that), I have no clue. The writing was insipid and boring, none of the characters were remotely likeable nor worthy of empathy, and the plot was completely flat. There was not a single thread of anything likeable.
This is the account of a man who does nothing in life - hiding behind the shadows and indulging in the pleasures of the senses. Perhaps it's a subtle pointer at how most of us lead similar aimless lives? That even slothfulness satiates after a certain point? That we humans can't escape from dealing with self-awareness? Smart people should be kind enough to hammer into my pea-brain the reason and deeper significance of why this book has received the Nobel Prize in Literature.