Book Review – A House for Mr Biswas

Posted: August 29, 2014 in Book Reviews
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The way I started with the story and the way I ended it was totally different and it was a totally wholesome experience. In the preview we see a certain Mr. Biswas and his wife entering the house. My initial conception was about an old person with sunglasses or tinted glasses with or without walking stick walking along with an old woman in sleeveless blouse. I had a Bengali family in mind when thinking of the couple entering the house. Even the admonishments of Mr. Biswas looked more civilized than it actually was.

a house for mr biswas

I was having a misconception that the title was The House of Mr. Biswas instead of A House for Mr. Biswas. May be my initial thought process was influenced by the confusion with the title. But when I read the same prologue after reading the whole novel it was a totally different experience. See what a funny experience it is to read the same words in different tone again.

Naipaul reportedly seem to have written this when he was 28. He now writes in the preface that he wasn’t sure why he was so ambitious at such a young age. But that was for good. If I could write something like this I’d be really proud. When you see the structure of the story you could hardly think that the author wrote this in his 20s. The book is so profound and you think it’s actually Mr. Biswas who wrote it.

Anthony Burgess called this book, “A work of great comic power qualified with firm and unsentimental compassion.” You can’t describe the book better. My friend said he thought this book to be poor cousin of Midnights children. That’s an equally emphatic way to describe the start of the book. If you’ve read Midnights Children you ought to make comparisons and get disappointed in turn. Especially the parts where he gets blessed by a Brahmin and he says that this child would kill his father and he shouldn’t go close to the water body. The initial pages couldn’t get close to Midnights Children. The genius of Midnights Children couldn’t be matched that easily.

The story slowly grows on you. The only thing that worries is the West Indian setup. It took me a while to accept to the fact that it’s West Indian setting that I’m reading. The novel was well written without any explanation given to the localities. I loved the way it was written but I’d have preferred a Calcutta background to the same story. It would have been more rooted.

As soon as Mr. Biswas comes of age and starts to work you totally lose the feeling of Midnights Children. From that part to where his son comes of age it was a laugh riot. Satire at its best. In fact this is the best satirical novel I’ve read thus far. The way he gets married and stays at Tulsi’s was a treat. We should ideally hate a guy like Mr. Biswas but I loved this guy. I loved it every time he insults his wife’s family. Not that I sympathize with him or the rest of the family but it was fun, especially when he ridicules the Gods, Mrs Tulsi’s son.

Mrs. Tulsi’s house organization was done with so much detailing that it was hard to believe it was written by someone who was not right there in that room. What’s funnier is how Anand gets to grow up exactly like his father. The only soft corner that Mr. Biswas has is for his son and that is clearly understandable. Even Anand’s pyrogenics is clearly understandable. The way he talks with his dad, how he gets angry around him when he tries to comfort him, how he goes to school and tells about Owad’s stories. It’s all so brilliantly done. The characterization couldn’t be done better.

Even the relationship between Mr. Biswas and his wife is so well written. It’s a unique relationship which only the yesteryear Indians would understand. There definitely is no love between the two but not for a second does Mr. Biswas think of another woman and his wife doesn’t think of betraying him or talks ill about him in front of others.

The book in spite of having a lot of humor turned out to be quite sad towards the end. I definitely didn’t expect a happy ending but I at least expected an ending where Mr. Biswas would keep on cursing the rest but we finally tend to feel bad about that guy even though he hasn’t done anything good to get our empathy. I didn’t like the way I sympathized with Mr. Biswas. I should have ended the book on a happy note even though he was suffering but that wasn’t to happen. I’m not sure how Naipaul could control his temptations and give a normal ending to the story. I was hoping for a dramatic ending which this book truly deserved. Thus it started with Midnights children’s influence and ended like Barry Lyndon.

  1. Thanks for sharing very useful.

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