That beautifully punishing sentence captures Naipaul and his favorite subject. Whether it is Mr. Biswas reading Marcus Aurelius on his Slumberking bed or the Bombay servant stranded in Washington, D.C., in "One Out of Many," Naipaul has written of men who have lost their place in the world. His characters make painfully bad choices, and his refusal to push them toward neat climaxes makes them feel undeniably real.
It's a testament to French's delicate skill that instead of trying to puncture Naipaul's well-tested armor he shows how the plates lock together. Naipaul's statements about Pat seem like a bid to seal his reputation for candor, but French exposes just enough of this disingenuousness to make "The World Is What It Is" the best account of Naipaul we are likely to get. As one Rasta poet put it, "He's a living example of how art transcends the artist 'cos he talks a load . . . but still writes excellent books."