Wednesday, 24 April 2013

In A Free State

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...

In A Free State
By V.S. Naipaul

Andre Deutsch, 1971

ISBN: 0233 95832 0

What an intriguing book. It is as relevant now as it was in the early 1970’s, when it was written. That timelessness makes it, for me, one of the classic titles that will be around for many years to come. The content, unfortunately, will also probably be around for many years to come. Let me explain...
The book is a series of accounts of people who attempt a life in a country that is not of their birth, in an atmosphere that is foreign to them. Each one believes they are going to, or becoming part of, a free state. Three long accounts, and a couple of shorter ones, all different, but all fundamentally the same, all telling of the struggle of life, looking for something better than they have, trying to create a better place for themselves and the world around them. Their successes and failures are explored in detail, but we are left to ponder the greater issues; just as a great book should leave us to do.
But enough of the plotline! I do try to avoid giving away any of the story itself, so as to retain the integrity of the author’s work, but I can tell you this much. It is tightly written, in as much as it wastes no words. Each sentence has a relevance to the tale and each sentence leads flowingly into the next one. It makes the work easy to read. I, for one, found myself concerned for the wellbeing of each of the protagonists, thus making the book a page turner. One of those tales that make the chores of the day disappear; the bedside light stays on just a little longer, or ‘lunch can wait’ for another half hour.
The descriptive text is, as far as I can tell, accurate and exhaustive. Set in three main locations, the description on England resonated in me as somewhere I recognised, so I have no doubt that quality research or first-hand knowledge was brought to bear with regard to the other locations.  But it doesn’t automatically make it a pleasant read. It is possible to make the reader quite uncomfortable, when he describes some of the things we took as the norm but are, in fact quite alien in our modern society. Or at least I would like to think so!
The book was written more than forty years ago, when the world as we know it was completely different. The great shame is that he could have probably written it in the last twelve months, and the story line would still be just as contemporary. Everything has changed, but absolutely nothing has changed. This is what will make this book important for the next hundred years or so. Perhaps Naipaul’s exposure of human endeavours, frailties, hopes and self belief, along with despair, prejudice and insulation by society will serve to alter the way the world looks at itself. But I wouldn’t bank on it!

BookerBookBloke verdict: 8/10

Why not have a look at my short story about the life of Florence Nightingale, taken from a slightly different slant. It can be found at:

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