Monday 20 November 2017

VS Naipaul certainly takes no prisoners

'If a writer doesn't generate hostility, he is dead." That's the view of 78-year-old Trinidad-born Nobel laureate VS Naipaul (below), who -- far from being dead -- seems to gain toxic energy by constantly practising what he preaches.

This is the man who declared that Africans "need to be kicked -- that's the only thing they understand", who saw the Tony Blair years as a plot to impose a "plebeian culture" on Britain and whose 15-year feud with fellow writer Paul Theroux (who exacerbated it in the savage memoir Sir Vidia's Shadow) only ended last week with a handshake at the Hay-on-Wye festival.

However, he used the occasion to endear himself to feminists by launching an attack on women's writing from Jane Austen onwards, declaring it to be "different, sentimental, unequal to me". Indeed, the books by his former publisher Diana Athill were "feminine tosh".

Bestselling author Joanne Harris responded furiously, asking: "If Naipaul had said that black, rather than women, writers were inferior, do you think they would have given him the Nobel prize?" And Orange prize winner Linda Grant chipped in with: "Does anyone actually read Naipaul?"

Well, clearly they read his calculatedly attention-grabbing putdowns, which is precisely what he wants.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, various women writers have backed Carmen Callil, who resigned from the Man Booker International Prize jury when it gave this year's award to Philip Roth.

The women in his books are portrayed either as "little more than bodies" or "walking mistakes", according to Lionel Shriver, while Amanda Craig is quoted as saying: "I hate his misogyny and hate always feeling worse at the end of his books than I did before I started them."

The more polite Fay Weldon contents herself with noting that he's "rather old-fashioned about women". All true, but speaking as a mere man I think he'll still be read when Carmen Callil is long forgotten.

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