ABOUT FIVE YEARS ago I had the pleasure of spending three days at an Italian literary festival in the company of the greatest living British writer. 'Sir Naipaul', as our hosts somewhat nervously referred to him, was clearly determined to enjoy himself. He came dressed in a thick, well-cut suit and wearing a trilby hat (the temperature in the hills above Turin was in the 80s), was politely exigent about translators, transport and diet, and delivered a memorable demolition of the entire Castilian literary tradition in the presence of at least one Spanish-speaking novelist. It was a consummate dramatic performance and I enjoyed myself no end.
Then, not long back, Naipaul's collection of essays entitled Literary Occasions appeared. Here, it seemed to me, was another act, or, rather, the result of a complex process of self-mythologising: an attempt by Naipaul to build up an appropriate picture of himself when young and to fork and re-fork all