Speaking in reaction to the new Patrick French biography on Naipaul, The World Is What It Is, Ramchand warned that Naipaul’s work should be separated from his private life. He however noted that the book’s fresh biographical details may elucidate and refocus some of the themes inherent in Naipaul’s works.
“There is a social being called Vidia Naipaul of whom we can get more and more information about his life; there is the writer as opposed to the impressions you form of the person writing based solely on the writing,” Ramchand said. “But there is a large gap between this social being and this impression of the writer.”
But in Naipaul’s case, Ramchand continued, certain elements of his writing are now more clearly explained.
“The horrors of the flesh, the sexual act and the homophobia...I can now see that obviously that experience (of child abuse) coloured his attitude to the flesh,” Ramchand said, noting that with few exceptions, Naipaul rarely wrote about sex.
The World Is What It Is contains a string of revelations about Naipaul’s life, including an account of how he was sexually molested by a male cousin for “two or three years” until he turned ten.
“From day one, he has never liked to write about sex,” said Ramchand, who was a professor of Literature at the University of the West Indies before retiring in 1999.
But in Ramchand’s view, the now revealed child abuse confirms what has been an undertone in Naipaul’s writing for decades. “It consolidates what I think about sex in Naipaul’s novels,” he said.
In Naipaul’s latest novel, Magic Seeds, a character says: “the fact is all sexual intimacy is distasteful to me. I’ve always considered my low sexual energy as a kind of freedom.”
Sexual depictions in Naipaul’s novels are rare but there are violent sex scenes in Guerillas and In A Free State. Sex scenes also occur, with an unusual flourish for detail, in his recent novel Half A Life. Naipaul has authored more than two dozen works of fiction and non-fiction, including the classic A House for Mr Biswas.
Ramchand, an associate provost at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, however warned that the new biography, which Naipaul, 76, approved for publication, should not be used to evaluate the merit of Naipaul’s work.
“It helps to consolidate or correct but not form our appreciation of his work,” he said of the book which has been nominated for the 2008 Samuel Johnson Prize.