Mr. Biswas is a challenging and absorbing novel, but I still think his best may be a different sort of midpoint. That would be A Bend in the River, the most comprehensive and fully realized of the “later Naipaul.” It has perhaps the broadest range of characters and places, and thus the broadest opportunities for inquiry. It is also one that gives prominence to a device that would become more and more prominent in Naipaul’s later career: the “authorial voice” who is at once omniscient narrator and a character in his own right.
My family were not fools. My father and his brothers were traders, businessmen; in their own way they had to keep up with the times. They could assess a situation; they took risks and sometimes they could be very bold. But they were buried so deep in their lives that they were not able to stand back and consider the nature of their lives. They did what they had to do. When things wings went wrong they had the consolations of religion. This wasn’t just a readiness to accept Fate; this was a quiet and profound conviction about the vanity of all human endeavor.
‘I could never rise so high. My own pessimism, my insecurity, was a more terrestrial affair. I was without the religious sense of my family. The insecurity I felt was due to my lack of true religion, and was like the small change of the exalted pessimism of our faith, the pessimism that can drive men on to do wonders. It was the price of my more materialist attitude, my seeking to occupy the middle ground, between absorption in life and soaring above the cares of the earth.
—V. S. Naipaul, A