The Mimic Men – V. S. Naipaul (1967)


“Inevitably, a simple synopsis of V. S. Naipaul’s new novel must, by creating the impression of alternatively rolling and thundering action, wholly distort its nature and quality. The scene shifts from rooming-house London to the Caribbean island of ‘Isabella,’ a British dependency, and back to England again. The time covers nearly 20 years in the life of the narrator-protagonist, Ralph Singh, a native of Isabella and later a political exile-refugee from it. (Naipaul, who has lived in London since his Oxford years, was born and raised in Trinidad, where his Indian grandfather had settled.) The recollected events of the novel include Singh’s intermittent and furtive sexual history, his marriage to an English girl, whose Byzantine taste in cosmetics includes painting her breasts gaudily, and the gradual corrosion and final disintegration of the marriage beneath the tropical moon. ‘The Mimic Men’ also tells us how Singh amassed a fortune, in consequence of some clever, farsighted speculation in middle-class housing estates on Isabella. Here, too, is the odd story of his father, a minor government functionary who leads a futile popular rising, and ends his career as a sort of guru dispensing wisdom, between fasts, to his black followers. Finally, there is Singh’s own rise to prominence as cofounder of an anticolonialist, vaguely socialist movement which projects Isabella into the struggles of the third-world emergent nations for national independence. In the course of sketching his rise and fall as ideologist and demagogue, Singh discourses on the nature of power and the power-drive, and describes the complex social and racial- ethnic scene (black and white, subject and overlord, Indian and Creole) from which the movement derives its impulse–and instability. Singh rises because the time is ripe and the vacuum is there. He falls in the whirlwind of a power struggle, as the new men make their move, because it is their turn. All this sounds epic and dynastic, a ‘big’ novel boiling with the great events of our time, caught, but not reduced, in the scope of a small island–brighter and clearer for the intensity of focus. …”
NY Times: Yesterday in Isabella (October 1967)
W – The Mimic Men
[PDF] The Mimic Men: A Novel
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