London: Authors Salman Rushdie, Patrick French and Paul Theroux have all paid tribute to V.S. Naipaul, who died in London on Saturday aged 85.
They did so despite having their differences with the Nobel-winning author of such novels as A House for Mr Biswas, In a Free State and A Bend in the River and works of non-fiction, among them India: A Wounded Civilisation, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey and India: A Million Mutinies Now.
His death was announced by wife Nadira Naipaul, to whom he was married for 22 years and who will now be responsible for safeguarding his literary legacy.
Naipaul, confined to a wheelchair for several years, had been ill for the past few months.
Nadira said her husband died at his home in South Kensington, London. “He was a giant in all that he achieved and he died peacefully surrounded by those he loved having lived a life which was full of wonderful creativity and endeavour,” she said.
Naipaul could be withering in his assessment of others, especially fellow authors. He had once characterised Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa on Salman Rushdie, after the publication of The Satanic Verses, as “an extreme form of literary criticism”.
But letting bygones be bygones for the time being, Rushdie issued a generous tweet: “We disagreed all our lives, about politics, about literature, and I feel as sad as if I just lost a beloved older brother. RIP Vidia.”
French was Naipaul’s chosen biographer but was cut out of his and Nadira’s lives after the publication in 2008 of a highly critical biography, The World Is What It Is.
French, who lives in India and is now dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and professor for the public understanding of the humanities at Ahmedabad University, told The Telegraph: “I feel sorrow that he has gone, just a few days before his 86th birthday. What a life.”
He added: “I’m amazed in retrospect that, from such inauspicious beginnings in rural, colonial Trinidad, he wrote so many great books and won all the literary prizes. Regardless of the controversies over his life, the books will go on.”
Theroux, who wrote in 1998 about a close friendship gone wrong in Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents — the two men made up in 2011 — spoke fondly of Naipaul as “one of the greatest writers of our time”.
“He never wrote falsely,” Theroux said. “He was a scourge of anyone who used a cliché or an un-thought-out sentence. He was very scrupulous about his writing; very severe too.”
Among those summoned to Naipaul’s bedside as he slipped away was his friend and ardent admirer of many years, Geordie Greig, who has been editor of The Mail on Sunday for six years and is about to take over from Paul Dacre as editor of the sister paper, The Daily Mail.
Indeed, Greig was putting his last edition of The Mail on Sunday to bed when he received the emergency phone call. Fortunately, it is only a short distance from Northcliffe House in Kensington to the Naipauls’ London home.
“Last night I was called to his bedside as he slipped away,” Greig recounted. “His wife Nadira and his adopted daughter Maleeha held his hand as he gently breathed his last, as I read aloud Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar, one of his favourite poems. It was a peaceful end.”