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A House for Mr. Biswas

A House for Mr. BiswasA House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This if the fourth Naipaul I have read, and it is probably my least favourite. Which is somewhat surprising, since this is one of the books usually listed as among his best.

I did like it. The characters are fun and engaging. The story kept me interested, and I read the book every chance I got.

But it did have some flaws. Trying to be Dickensian, there is too much going on. Too many characters, too many subplots, too many episodes of the plot that make the same points and delay developments. His much simpler first novel, The Mystic Masseur, achieves some of the same things as this novel, but without the excess.

Mohun Biswas is a cursed child who brings that curse upon his family. As a late teen he suddenly finds himself married into a domineering and large family in which he feels trapped. And the rest of the novel is set within the dynamics of this family. This is based somewhat on the experiences of Naipaul's own father and his in-laws.

There is constant feuding among the members of the family, and this becomes tiring at times. Occasionally Mohun will be on good terms with his mother-in-law and then in the next chapter all will decay again. Again, it can become a little tiresome.

Though I found the characters fun and engaging, they also tired me at times. Mohun himself remains very immature throughout his life. This, of course, is on purpose. We are supposed to see the affects of colonialism and cultural displacement through this man and the dynamics of his family.

**Spoiler alert***

Once he does get his own house, toward the very end of the novel, he has been taken advantage of. He has paid too much for a poorly constructed home. As a reader, you know the story will end this way, that there won't be a triumphant ending, but you do wish for that. And despite the home's problems, he and his family do take some comfort and joy in the house and the garden they plant. There is a little bit of Candide in the ending.

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