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A House for Everyone
Nov 25, 2005 06:28 PM 13333 Views
(Updated Nov 25, 2005 06:37 PM)



A House for Mr.Biswas, cleverly written by Nobel laureate Sir V.S.Naipaul in 1957, I believe is a work of satire comparable with Joseph Heller’s Catch-22; it sounds like a tall order, I know, but one needs an excellent eye for details to really appreciate and enjoy the message given in this novel.

The author has chosen a very important subject that is intrinsic to every human being yet thought to be unimportant and so ignored by most writers. This is not a book in which a wedding, a court-fight, a divorce, a war, or a reunion is shown as the pivotal element in one’s life, but this is a book in which the desire to own a house is shown as the primary goal. Everyone wants to own a house; it is not a desire, says Sir Naipaul, but a necessity.

The story is in third-person narrative, set in Trinidad, and the tone is strictly objective. The details bloom with life, and the reader might think that the writer has used too much judgement on the characters and surroundings, but on closer look will find that it is the reader herself (or himself) who is acting on the stage. Sir Naipaul is a fine craftsman – not even on one instance did he gave his judgement in his Nobel Prize winning book, Among the Believers. He presents the truth as it is.

Mr.Biswas, the protagonist, comes from a poor immigrant Hindu family in Trinidad. His parents were labourers and he received very little care as a child. Poverty forced him to grow up into a semi-literate man, enough to earn a living but not a decent one. Then he meets Shama, a teenage daughter of an orthodox Hindu woman who ran a large family in an enclosed house. He married Shama by accident because at his heart he had not wanted to and because Shama’s mother, Mrs.Tulsi, seemed to hold the key to his future opportunities. Confused and alone, he committed.

After this the story twists and turns at many places; characters do their jobs; there is variety and anticipation, and meanwhile Mr.Biswas thinks of a way to own a house.

I will leave the explanation of the contents to better hands because this novel has so many characters with so many original qualities and so many conflicting interests that I must devise a short-cut to squeeze everything in my review. The dynamics of joint family is nicely explained here, and one would quietly chuckle at how the writer has tactfully revealed dark comedy, such as wife-beating, child-marriage, minority issues and the outlook of an orthodox group in a foreign land. Every object in this novel carries a deeper idea, and if one is isolated for the sake of easy understanding, it would be an injustice. However, I can tell the abstract of this novel, which I believe would help the prospective reader to actually make a conclusion about this book.

Everybody may not want a salary but they do want to own a house. Even a tiny insect would think of colonising on a piece of stale bread as its last resort to raise its family. Mr.Biswas had an extraordinary job if weighed against his skill and experience - he was a reporter in a local newspaper. Born in a very poor family, raised among a chaotic mess of orthodox elders, he had wanted to escape from the confinement of indifferent people. But the thirty years old Mr.Biswas, although financially secure, struggled for his freedom, a thing that can only be achieved if he owned a house, if he can close the doors and the gates as and when he liked, if he can let in or deny people from the veranda with a faint wave of the hand.

This attitude of Mr.Biswas might project itself to the reader as outrageously vain and comical; it is not. It is a message very nicely hidden by using an objective tone, nevertheless a message to readers to look at their only one most critical goal in their lives from a different viewpoint. This because sometimes people think they can be secure their entire life even if they do not own a roof, which is not true. But the general run of men and women always want to own a house during their lifetime, and the way their mind function during the various stages of planning is a subject that is worth a fat novel. Let me remind you, it is also a very amusing read.

In the beginning of my review, I wrote that this is a satirical novel, and I stand by it, because if one asks any person walking in the street about his or her most annoying yet precious belonging, the answer would be a house. And Sir Naipaul has succeeded in jabbing the bellies of every men and women on earth by inventing a universally valid constant – Mr.Biswas!

I would like to tell the good readers that A House for Mr.Biswas will go beyond their expectations in terms of quality and content, and it will make them laugh as well as show them a glimpse of the lives of immigrants in Trinidad and the world in general, which could be termed as non-fiction.

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House For Mr Biswas, A - V S Naipaul