Review Post 27 – The Gentle Art of Humour

Do not expect a lot from me today (or any time soon): fatherhood is starting to wear me a down a little, and I’ve come down with a rotten stinking cold and struggle to go two minutes without coughing enough to make me want the strongest drugs money can buy. Of course, on top of all that, I’m slightly distracted anyway; you may have noticed that there’s some kind of sporting event going on in South Africa…


Anyway, just to get up to date, I thought I’d tell you about the last section of the book on your left, having already talked about The Suffrage of Elvira and Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion. The third part of this bumper Naipaul omnibus was a collection of stories (some short, some not so) called A Flag on the Island. I’m not a big fan of short stories, but I do like Naipaul, and I was very happy with what I read here.

Naipaul’s early work appears to be divided between tales of ethnic Indians on Trinidad and stories set in London’s suburban graveyards, and (as hinted at in my review of Mr. Stone… ) my preference is for the sunnier climes. The writer’s greatest strength is his command of different varieties of English, switching between patois, Indian English and a relaxed, educated standard English without missing a step, enabling him to deal with the ethnic rivalry (if not tension) from several viewpoints.

My favourites among this collection are all Caribbean-based. The Nightwatchman’s Occurrence Book, which is literally composed of entries in the aforementioned book, is a wonderful example of the interplay between pedantic management and canny staff, and teaches us to be very careful what we ask for. The Baker’s Story is a delightful monologue about a young islander who has to resort to an unusual tactic in order to fulfil his dream of making a success of his bakery. When God, in reply to his prayers, tells him “Young man, you just bake bread”, the baker has no idea that these words have more to them than first appears…

After about ten stories of between 10 and 20 pages, the final story, A Flag on the Island, comes as a bit of a shock to the system, running as it does for over 80 pages. It’s a frame narrative (of which I’ve had a few recently) where an American sailor returns involuntarily to an island where he spent time during the Second World War. The body of the story tells of his life with the locals and the relationships he builds, some of which still hold up on his return to the island. Not a lot of action, but, as is usual with Naipaul, nothing happens in the most enjoyable manner possible.


So that’s it for today (and the foreseeable future). All in all, this collection of Naipaul’s works has been a great find, and I would recommend it to all my readers in terms of both quality and quantity. However, now I’m off to watch New Zealand take on Slovakia because, playing in post-apartheid South Africa, the ‘All Whites’ need all the support they can get. Bye for now 😉

Don’t mention the Australia game.

Definitely don’t mention the England goalkeeper.

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