V. S. Naipaul’s writing career can be seen in terms of a journey, an ‘infinite rehearsal’5 and meditation on his diasporic experience as an East Indian West Indian and a continual revaluation of the situation of his double exile. A journey as an im/migrant writer in Britain and the location of that self in a world that is now not only post-imperial but also postcolonial — a country ‘whose recent history of immigration ensures that the conflicts of postcolonial identity are now enacted on the site of the imperial power itself’.6 This journey and the enigma of its many arrivals have been expressed over a period of nearly 40 years and through a variety of narrative forms ranging from fiction to travelogue, to autobiography and history.7 Naipaul’s fiction and non-fictional writings trace a symptomatic response to the need to discover an appropriate literary form for the representation of a psychic and symbolic sense of ‘homelessness’. A need, as Bharati Mukherjee has suggested, to write constantly about ‘unhousing’ whilst still remaining ‘unhoused’,8 to discover a new architecture for the imagination which would move beyond a sense of recurrent ‘shipwreck’, and give expression to the ‘restlessness’ and ‘disorder’ brought about by the psychic and physical upheavals resulting from a history of Empire. Importantly, we are told through the words of Ralph Singh, narrator of The Mimic Men (1967),9 that ‘the empires of our time’ have been ‘short-lived’ but ‘they have altered the world for ever: their passing away is their least significant feature’ (p. 32).
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