Posted by: Corri van de Stege | April 13, 2008

Biography or autobography

There are a couple of interesting reviews and articles that caught my attention these

last few days.  This week I tuned into a tv programme on VS Naipaul and I was

absolutely fascinated by someone so utterly taken in by himself, a godfather figure

who pats you on the back for the fact that so far you may not have realised what a

wonderful and misunderstood writer and guy he actually is.  A wife in the

background, his second wife, reconfirms all these self satisfying comments.  The next

day this verdict of mine was fully confirmed by Sam Wollaston’s review of the

programme in the Friday Guardian:  ‘VS Naipual is so poisonous and slippery, I

wouldn’t be surprised if his tongue was forked’, he writes.  The reason for this sudden

attention for the Nobel Prize winner is of course the publication of Patrick French’s

biography of Naipaul: The World is What it is.  The Guardian also reviews this book

which is considered brilliant, laying bare the demons of this writer.  As I am

preoccupied with biographies, memoirs and autobiographies at the moment, this will

have to go on my ‘to read’ list, if only to find out what it is to write a ‘brilliant’



I have meanwhile read through three quarters or so of Blake Morrison’s And when

did you last see your Father?  At the time this was acclaimed as an extraordinary

book and tribute and won a number of awards, one the Ackerley Prize for

Autobiography 1993.  I am always puzzled at the distinction between

biography/autobiography.  This book is certainly both: Morrison writes about his own

approach to his father’s death and life, but at the same time reveals quite a bit about

the man himself and is as one reviewer says ‘a tribute’ to his father.  It is hugely

difficult to find that balance between genuine biography and intrusiveness into a

person’s life, but this book is very well written and the book is not a revelation of

intimate personal details, although the graphic description of the physical

deterioration of his father at times makes me want to skip a few pages.  However, they

are also necessary to reveal the man and to contrast this physical frailty with the

character.  The book was of course made into a film with Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth.



  1. Just a quick shout-out, I’m still in Hong Kong for interviews–it feels weird and out-of-place to be actually “living” in hometown! Gotta go look for more books as I’ll be running out… 🙂

    Got a few books that are very good reads…drwoning in The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. I’ve also got Woman in White….

  2. Hi Matt – I know I know… I’ve been following your travels with interest and admire your pictures: at least you seem to have come through the wordpress changeover without a hitch, even if you are on the road. Good luck with the interviews!

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