Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

1971 Booker Prize Winner

In a Free State by V S Naipaul


Publisher: Deutsch

Length: 192 pages

About: Five stories of alienating cultures

Style: 1st & 3rd person

Where: America, India, Britain, Africa, West Indies

When: 1960s


Publisher’s synopsis:

In the beginning it is just a car trip through Africa. Two English people – Bobby, a civil servant with a guilty appetite for African boys, and Linda, a supercilious “compound wife” – are driving back to their enclave after a stay in the capital. But in between lies the landscape of an unnamed country whose squalor and ethnic bloodletting suggest Idi Amin’s Uganda. And the farther Naipaul’s protagonists travel into it, the more they find themselves crossing the line that separates privileged outsiders from horrified victims. Alongside this Conradian tour de force are four incisive portraits of men seeking liberation far from home.



The tramp when he appeared on the quay looked very English but that might only have been we had no English people on board. From a distance he didnt look like a tramp. the hat and the rucksack, the lovat tweed jacket, the grey flannels and the boots might have belonged to a romantic wanderer of an earlier generation; in that rucksack there might have been a book of verse, a journal, the beginnings of a novel.





Mr. Naipaul's style in these stories seems leaner than in the past and much more somber. There is virtually none of the earlier playfulness. He appears to have settled for precision over abundance. Each detail and each incident is made to carry its weight in the narrative. The effect is not small-scaled, for in the title story he has created an entire country. He has not tidied up every loose strand. There is, for example, a Chinese circus that travels through these pages, whose meaning is more intriguing than clear. But there is nothing unfinished in these polished novellas. For full review click here

The New York Times , Thomas Lask, December 25th 1971



Not so good:

 It seems churlish then to complain about such a fine piece of writing. But I did have some grumbles. In contrast to his ability to lay bare the psychology of racism, Naipaul's depiction of a homosexual is clumsy. Bobby, the male half of the dysfunctional lead duo, is something of a gay caricature. He's arrogant, highly-strung, masochistic, full of "cunt" hatred and pathetically weak and needy when it comes to his "adventures" with local men. The portrayals of these "natives" meanwhile, may well be deliberately wafer-thin, presumably in order to reflect the way the Europeans view them, but they remain correspondingly unsatisfying. Finally, there's an intangible quality missing that makes it hard to warm to this book, in spite of its dazzling prose. For full review click here.

The Guardian Blog Books, Sam Jordison, 21st December, 2007


About the author

V S Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad, on 17 August 1932. His novels include The Mimic Men (1967), winner of the 1968 WH Smith Literary Award, In a Free State (1971), which won the Booker Prize for Fiction. V. S. Naipaul was knighted in 1989. He was awarded the David Cohen British Literature Prize by the Arts Council of England in 1993 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. He holds honorary doctorates from Cambridge University and Columbia University in New York, and honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge, London and Oxford. He lives in Wiltshire, England.


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Age guide: 12






Novels by same author:

    The Mystic Masseur  (1957) – film version: The Mystic Masseur (2001)

    The Suffrage of Elvira  (1958)

    Miguel Street  (1959)

    A House for Mr Biswas  (1961)

    Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion  (1963)

    The Mimic Men  (1967)

    A Flag on the Island  (1967)

    Guerrillas  (1975)

    A Bend in the River  (1979)

    The Enigma of Arrival  (1987)

    A Way in the World  (1994)

    Half a Life  (2001)

    The Nightwatchman's Occurrence Book: And Other Comic Inventions (Stories) – (2002)

    Magic Seeds  (2004)








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2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

Extract from New York Times to view full article...

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