Wednesday 29 February 2012

A Bend In The River by V. S. Naipaul

This is going to be a hard review to write, because it's hard for me to find a standard by which to judge this book by.  Told from the point of view of Salim, who has moved from the coast inland to a nameless African country with remarkable similarities to the Congo, A Bend In The River is an observation of life in Africa following decolonisation.  There is violence, corruption, political instability and periods of relative stability.

The reason this book is so hard to review is that techincally, it's not a story.  So on all my assessments of narrative it falls short.  There isn't really a plot, let alone one that it engaging.  The main character is a vehicle for Naipaul's thoughts rather than being a 'real' character so I certainly didn't connect with him.  The lack of these traditional story elements made this book hard for me to read and despite it being only 300 pages or so, it has taken me over a week to finish it.  I got to the point a few days ago when I just wanted it done already.

But on the other hand, A Bend In The River is an extremely powerful piece of observational writing.  Yes, not much happens but some of the things Naipaul writes about are very profound and clever.  The character of Ferdinand for example, goes through a series of changes that reflect what is happening in the African countries themselves.  One moment he is polite and dedicated to school and his bright future, the next he is doing all he can to get in with whoever has power at the moment, the next he is eschewing education for emphasising his tribal connections.  Naipaul does an excellent job of showing the underlying tensions between groups of people that threaten to blow up at any moment, and this particularly works as Salim is an 'outsider' too.

The writing is very good too.  Naipaul uses a simplistic style but there are plenty of underlying messages, meaning that the book repays any time spent analysing it. And that was the problem for me - I read this book at the wrong time.  Some days I only had twenty minutes or so to devote to it, and the lack of plot became too much for me.  It's a worthwhile book, but it requires time and concentration.  If you like fast-moving plots, this isn't the book for you.   If you enjoy reading about Africa and African history and go into it knowing that it is mainly observation, then this could be a very enjoyable read.

Verdict: Right book, wrong time.  Powerful observations of Africa post-Independence.
Source: Library
First Published: 1980
Score: 3 out of 5


  1. Like you, I like a lot of story with my stories. But I ended up admiring this book a ton. Maybe not "liking" it, but I definitely admired it. Great review.

    I have a question unrelated to this review. I love your Literary Blog Directory and tried to sign up a couple of weeks ago but my entry hasn't shown up. Are you no longer adding to the list? Or did I do something wrong with my entry?

    Rose City Reader

    1. I agree with you, I may not have always liked this book, but I definitely admired it.

      I am still updating the directory but must admit to letting it slip a little bit recently. I will add all the newest entries soon :)

  2. I like a fairly even balance of plot and story personally, Thanks for sharing your review!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

  3. I have never heard of this book, but from your review it is well-written. My boyfriend love to read non-fiction, so I will pass this title on to him. Thanks for sharing!


    1. It is a well written book Jess. I think it blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction; technically it is a story but it's heavily based on fact.

  4. Thanks for your review. You encourage me to read the book. It's been on my shelf for the longest time.

    1. Good luck with it, Tea. Let me know what you think after you finish it.

    2. I've read so little Naipaul, and nothing at all since the brouhaha about his comments about women writers. But I do love reading about Africa and various countries' independence, so maybe one day I'll pick this up. It'd be more of a "sure thing", though, if the book contained more narrative/story. thanks for the review.

  5. Hi Sam,
    Naipaul is a notoriously difficult writer to read and review, because, through his skillful manoeuvring of words, he manages to slip in ideas into your head that you would not have permitted otherwise, so that you are left confused in the end.

    It's my first time on your blog, and i loved it a lot! each review was sprinkled with wit and common sense! following you now.

    I am a book fanatic, and I recently started my own book review blog. It's only two posts old, but I'm going to update very regularly. Would you please have a look at it

    If you like it, please become a follower. I really need feedback and encouragement from experienced reviewers like you.

    Thank you!