22 January, 2021

Theroux's Stew

A famous literary friendship is reduced to petty quibbling

Theroux's Stew
IN l963, as literary editor of a weekly magazine in London, I asked V.S. Naipaul to contribute. He never did, but I have since been a friend of his, of his first wife Pat until her death, and of Nadira, his second wife. Round about l965, he brought to my house the young Paul Theroux, and whispered in my ear, "He works for the CIA." Had this been so, I would have approved but I was familiar with Naipaul's humour. Natural writer that he is, he treats contacts and relationships as raw material, he understates or exaggerates, trying things on for effect, perhaps insecure himself at some level.

Naipaul and Theroux had been colleagues for a while at Makerere university, in Uganda. The former was already famous, clever and confident enough to defend any opinion and its opposite; the latter was an apprentice, unsure of himself and his subject matter. Accidents of time and place had introduced a disciple to a master. "How helpless I must have seemed." In the grip of emotion, Theroux, a talented writer, melts into Danielle Steel. "But he saw other strengths in me; something in...



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