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Peggy Nightingale. Journey through Darkness: The Writing of V. S. Naipaul. St. Lucia: U of Queensland P, 1987. 255 pp. pb. $22.50.

A revision of the author's dissertation on V. S. Naipaul, Journey through Darkness provides a competent yet uninspired consideration of Naipaul's oeuvre (excluding the 1987 The Enigma of Arrival). Nightingale's scope is broad, perhaps overly so, as she examines Naipaul's portrayal of the stultifying legacy of colonialism in both the Third and Western Worlds, considers the extension of Naipaul's range as [End Page 255] he crosses "the regional barrier" of the West Indies to claim the larger postcolonial world as his subject, analyzes the concomitant evolution of authorial perspective from benign satire through cynicism and despair to acceptance and sympathy, and investigates the symbiotic relationship between Naipaul's fiction and nonfiction. In addition, Nightingale discusses the structure and style of individual works and elucidates the themes of political corruption and the failure of social and human contracts, entrapment and the paradoxical "free state" of geographical and psychological exile, and the kinship between fantasy and reality.

Lacking a unifying thesis, Nightingale attempts to integrate her wide-ranging concerns into a coherent whole by adopting as her organizing metaphor a recurring image from Naipaul's fiction: a decrepit bus hurtles past canefields and a boy in a hut who stares vacantly into the surrounding darkness, unaware of the vehicle's destination. The bus, Nightingale maintains, symbolizes any newly independent nation pursuing its erratic course through the postcolonial gloom, whereas the boy "may represent the writer himself in the first phase of his career. Nightingale explores this interesting parallel in Part One of her study, investigating Naipaul's early work in which he confines himself to Trinidad and the Caribbean, "the illuminated circle around the hut." The young Naipaul, "adopting the perspective" of the inexperienced boy, portrays Trinidadian society compassionately and humorously in the Miguel Street sketches and in the early stories of A Flag on the Island. But as the writer matures, Nightingale notes, he moves from the Horatian satire of The Mystic Masseur and The Suffrage of Elvira through the sympathetic reminiscences of A House for Mr Biswas to the scathing observations of The Middle Passage. Thus is established a pattern not only of an evolving authorial perspective but also of a widening geographical range (from a Port of Spain street in Miguel Street to the entire Caribbean in The Middle Passage), a pattern Nightingale traces through the remainder of Naipaul's literary career, which she divides into three phases.

In Part Two of her book, Nightingale extends Naipaul's image to suit her organizational needs as she visualizes the boy/author "look[ing] up the road seeking the point of origin of the bus." In this second phase of his career (encompassing the writing of Mr Stone and the Knights Companion, An Area of Darkness, "A Flag on the Island," The Mimic Men, and The Loss of El Dorado), Naipaul investigates both the recent and remote past to uncover the seeds of the present dislocation and despair of various colonies and metropolises.

Part Three of the study underlines the limitations of Nightingale's controlling metaphor as she yokes together works that would have been more aptly considered separately. Maintaining that in the third phase of his career Naipaul seeks "the destination of the bus" and finds the fearful and inescapable legacy of colonialism, Nightingale appropriately examines In a Free State, Guerrillas, and articles from The Return of Eva Perón in terms of the deracination, corruption, and violence endemic in postcolonial societies. But the inclusion of India: A Wounded Civilization, A Bend in the River, and Among the Believers in a part that ostensibly focuses upon Naipaul's despair in the face of the "heart of darkness" is paradoxical: these books, Nightingale herself admits, display a new optimism regarding man's resilience and "a more positive tone" than the work of the early 1970s. Moreover, this moderation of Naipaul's vision is inadequately explained. [End Page 256]

Part Four of the book examines Finding the Centre as a second beginning in Naipaul's career. This intensely personal...


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pp. 255-257
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