I drive to Wiltshire on a rare sunny English summer’s day to interview V S Naipaul in his country home. All his books, fiction and non-fiction, are to be reissued (by Picador in Britain and Knopf in the USA), and this interview anticipates the publication next month of his new novel, Half a Life. Before we begin our conversation, Vidia shows me round his garden, which stretches for an acre down a slope to the water meadows of the River Avon. It contains myriad shades of green, the deep purple of copper beech, several varieties of holly, some white blossoms, but no flower beds. Vidia tells me the names of the trees and the prospects for their growth, saying two or three times what a copse or hedge will look like in years to come, ‘when I shall be gone’.
You said long ago that the novel doesn’t interest you any more, that ‘the novel is finished’. But you’ve written one now. Was that declaration just a tease?
No. The novel is so bastardised a form, and it’s so passing. Everyone writes a novel, and it’s so much a copy, unconsciously, unwittingly, of novels that have gone before. The really true books are the ones that last – not the copies. I was saying that I preferred reading the originals.
This latest novel finds a new way of telling a story. Why is it called ‘Half a Life’?
It’s a lovely title.
It does fit.
Yes, it does fit.
But you don’t want to give the game away?
You must allow me to keep a few secrets.
All right. It’s not set out in dramatic scenes. I was reminded of your non-fiction, of ‘India: A Million Mutinies Now’ and of ‘Beyond Belief’, where you re-create the stories real people tell you.
Plain narrative, yes.
It’s different from your other fiction. If one adapted ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ for