V.S. Naipaul – he never professionally used his full name – was considered the foremost novelist of the English-speaking Caribbean.
His powerful writing, which won him a Nobel Literature Prize in 2001, dealt with the cultural confusion of the Third World.
Naipaul pulled no punches in his writing, which was often bleak and penetrating, as were his conversations.
The Committee which awarded him the Nobel Prize, praised his work “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”.
It went on: “Naipaul is a modern philosopher. In a vigilant style, which has been deservedly admired he transforms rage into precision and allows events to speak with their own inherent irony.”
Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born on August 17, 1932, in Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago, into a family of Indian Brahmin origin. He was educated at the Queen’s Royal College, Port of Spain, and in 1950 he won a scholarship to Oxford.
After a nervous breakdown at about this period, he tried to commit suicide but luckily the gas meter ran out.
While at Oxford he met Patricia Hale. They married in 1955. She died in 1996 and Naipaul married Nadira Alvi, a divorced Pakistani journalist.
On graduation, Naipaul started his career as a freelance writer, but his serious works began when he started to examine his own Trinidadian background. From 1954 to 1956, Naipaul was a broadcaster for the BBC’s Caribbean Service and between the years 1957 and 1961 he was a regular fiction reviewer for the New Statesman.
His first books were published in the late 1950s but they did not make much money.
It was in 1961 that A House for Mr Biswas appeared. It is often regarded as his masterpiece, telling the tragicomic story of the search for independence and identity of a Brahmin Indian living in Trinidad.
It was in this year that he received a grant from the Trinidad Government to travel in the Caribbean, and his first non-fiction book, The Middle Passage (1962), describes his first revisiting of the West Indies. Its examination of racial tensions made black West Indians call him a racist.
Among his subsequent books was A Bend in the River (1979), a pessimistic novel about Africa proclaiming the corruptibility of mankind.
After 1950, Naipaul lived in Wiltshire, but travelled extensively. His essays and travel writing were often negative, unsentimental explorations of West Indian society. He admitted that he detested the sound of a West Indian steel band.
He was also accused, by readers of his subsequent works, including Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981), of having a narrow and selective view of Islam.
In the 1990s, Naipaul concentrated on non-fiction, and it was in 1994 that his long awaited novel appeared, A Way in the World, an autobiography and a fictional history of colonialism, presenting stories from the times of Sir Walter Raleigh to the 19th century revolutionary Francisco Miranda.
There developed a decades-long friendship between Naipaul and the American writer Paul Theroux, but in an angry and unforgiving book, Sir Vidia’s Shadow, Naipaul rejected Theroux.
Theroux had earlier considered Naipaul as his mentor but the break-up was bitter, Theroux saying: “I had admired his talent. After a while I admired nothing else. Finally I began to wonder about his talent, seriously to wonder, and doubted it when I found myself skipping pages in his more recent books.
“In the past I would have said the fault was mine. Now I knew that he could be the monomaniac in print that he was in person.”
The pair finally buried the hatchet in 2011, when writer Ian McEwan persuaded them to shake hands at the Hay literature festival.
Naipaul continued writing non-fiction works later in life, including The Masque of Africa (2010), which followed trips to the continent in 2008/9.
Despite being one of literature’s great enigmas, the author himself appeared to have a simple, straightforward view of his works.
“I didn’t make the world,” Naipaul once said. “I tried to record it accurately and without prejudice.
“To have a political view is to be prejudiced. I don’t have a political view.”