Reading V.S. Naipaul : fiction and history 1967-1987

Prescott, Lynda (1990). Reading V.S. Naipaul : fiction and history 1967-1987. PhD thesis The Open University.



V. S. Naipaul has published almost equal amounts of fiction and nonfiction; he maintains that his nonfictional writing is an integral part of his work. This thesis is concerned with the way readers process the two types of narrative, with special reference to historical writing and the novel.

After a brief introductory survey of Naipaul's writing to date, chapter 1 explores some of the philosophical and historical issues underlying a comparative study of fiction and history. In chapter 2 attention switches to the reader's role; selected aspects of reader-response criticism are discussed in order to generate some questions that will need to be considered in a theory of reading taking account of fictional and nonfictional texts. Chapter 3 advances such a theory, based on the idea of opposing centrifugal and centripetal tendencies in reading.

In chapters 4-6 this theory is tested with three sets of readers, using two of Naipaul's books from the late 1960s, a novel (The Mimic Men) and a history (The Loss of El Dorado). In chapter 4 the readers are volunteers who took part in a research project aimed at finding out more about readers' initial orientations towards literary texts, and about reading strategies for different genres. Reviewers of The Mimic Men and The Loss of El Dorado form the second group of readers (chapter 5) and the two sets of reviews are analysed for evidence of centrifugal and centripetal reading. In chapter 6 the readers are academic critics and the materials are longer critical texts. Chapters 5 and 6 also raise questions about literary criticism as an institution, and the influence of interpretive communities.

In chapter 7 the centrifugal/centripetal theory is used to produce a reading of The Enigma of Arrival (1987), a novel which hovers on the borderline of nonfiction. Possibilities for further research are outlined briefly in the conclusion.

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