The Nightwatchman's Occurrence Book: And Other Comic Inventions
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V. S. Naipaul’s legendary command of broad comedy and acute social observation is on abundant display in these classic works of fiction–two novels and a collection of stories–that capture the rhythms of life in the Caribbean and England with impressive subtlety and humor.
The Suffrage of Elvira is Naipaul’s hilarious take on an electoral campaign in the back country of Trinidad, where the candidates’ tactics include blatant vote-buying and supernatural sabotage. The eponymous protagonist of Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion is an aging Englishman of ponderously regular habits whose life is thrown into upheaval by a sudden marriage and unanticipated professional advancement. And the stories in A Flag on the Island take us from a Chinese bakery in Trinidad–whose black proprietor faces bankruptcy until he takes a Chinese name–to a rooming house in London–where the genteel landlady plays a nasty Darwinian game with her budgerigars. Unfailingly stylish, filled with intelligence and feeling, here is the work of a writer who can do just about anything that can be done with language.
English too. Gold Teeth did the only thing she could do. She began to cry. Three days in succession she asked his permission to go to church, and his opposition weakened in the face of her tears. He was now, besides, too weak to oppose anything. Although his appetite had returned, he was still very ill and very weak, and every day his condition became worse. On the fourth day he said to Gold Teeth, ‘Well, pray to Jesus and go to church, if it will put your mind at rest.’ And Gold Teeth
like the Lewises. In fact, she didn’t like any of her tenants. She criticized them all to me and I suppose she criticized me to them. You couldn’t blame her: the house was just too full of tenants. Apart from a sitting-room on the ground floor, a kitchen on the landing at the top of the basement steps, and a bedroom somewhere in the basement, the whole of the Cookseys’ house had been let. The Cookseys had no children and were saving up for old age. It had come but they didn’t know. Mrs Cooksey
up the châle-au-pain, and the next thing is that this dough mix up with the other dough, and see me kneading and baking, as though all is one. The thing is, when you go in for a thing like that, to go in brave-brave. It have some people who make so much fuss when they doing one little thing that they bound to get catch. So, and I was surprise like hell, mind you. I get this stuff push in the oven, and is this said Chinee man, always with this sad and sorrowful Chinee face, who pulling it out of
step or two nearer the case of whisky. ‘But Goldsmith, a kattha going to cost a lot of money.’ ‘Course it going to cost money!’ Rampiari’s husband withdrew. Harbans got up, cooing. ‘Ooh, Goldsmith. If they want to honour me with a kattha, we must let them honour me with a kattha. Ooh. Tell you what, eh, good people of Elvira. Make a little collection among yourself fust.’ The crowd was too astonished to protest. Only Haq staggered up and said, ‘Why for we should make a collection for a Hindu
drawing-room in Port of Spain. Then Foam had an accident. He knocked the Negro waiter down and spilled his red sweet drink on the floor. Chittaranjan didn’t look. ‘It could wipe up easy. Tiles, you know.’ Nelly came out, smiled maliciously at Foam and cleaned up the mess. Chittaranjan stood up. Even in his sabots he looked no more than five feet tall. He went to a corner of the veranda, his sabots clicking and clacking, took up a tall chromium-plated column and set it next to Foam’s chair.