In other people’s words

1. Confronted with a world configured by the colonizer, the colonized subject is always presumed guilty. The colonized does not accept his guilt, but rather considers it a kind of curse, a sword of Damocles.”

Wounder and Wounded, James Wood

2. “All that my freedom has brought me is the knowledge that I have a face and have a body, that I must feed this body and clothe this body for a certain number of years. Then it will be over.”

One out of Many, V. S. Naipaul

3. They were in some ways well matched. Like him, she was from modest circumstances—her father was a clerk in a lawyer’s office, and the family lived in a two-bedroom flat in a suburb of Birmingham. She was the only girl at her school to win a state scholarship to Oxford. They were both twenty-two when they married, and neither family was notified. But, whereas Naipaul careered from confidence to anxiety (a year after meeting Pat, he told her that “from a purely selfish point of view you are the ideal wife for a future G.O.M.”—Grand Old Man—“of letters”), Pat was stable, supportive, a willing helpmeet. Years later, in one of this biography’s many devastating moments, Naipaul reread his early correspondence with Pat and made notes. He had got too quickly involved with Pat, he wrote; he had been in too deep and could not get out. It would have been better if he had married someone else. Pat “did not attract me sexually at all.” He decided that the relationship, on his side, “was more than half a lie. Based really on need. The letters are shallow & disingenuous.”

Her presence in this biography is a hush around Vidia’s noise; her job is merely to hold the big drum of his ego in the right position, the better for him to strike the vital life rhythm. Naipaul’s sympathy for the political and emotional fragility of his characters did not extend to his wife. Pat’s diaries make for painful reading: “I felt assaulted but I could not defend myself.” “He has been increasingly frenzied and sadly, from my point of view, hating and abusing me.” Pat died of breast cancer in 1996. “It could be said that I had killed her,” Naipaul tells French. “It could be said. I feel a little bit that way.”

Wounder and Wounded, James Wood