Author: V.S. Naipaul –
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing –
Genre: History, Culture –
Overall rating: 4/5 –
Writing: 4/5 –
Duration: 10:01 (medium) –
Narrator: Simon Vance –
Narrator/performance: 5/5 –
Impressions: n/a –
Performance errors: 0/5 –
Complexity/reading level: 5/5 –
One may assume that reading an author awarded with the Nobel Prize (1990), the Booker Prize (1971) and so many other honors would be an aesthetic experience. But perhaps long gone are the days when the important book is written with a flourish and the intent to warm the heart. My primary experience of “An Area of Darkness” can be only described as “surprise at the utter strangeness of it”.
Of course, this may be due to the fact that I have never set foot outside of Europe. Perhaps I am just not used to the complexity of the world to an extent your typical reader of “An Area of Darkness” would possess. Yet it stilled puzzled me that the narrator, surely intended to be the writer himself, looked at the world with such a cold stare and wrote about it not sparing the reader even a slightest detail of his torment. The book is full of descriptions of encounters made by the writer, not against his will, with the world he does not feel a part of. He endures it up until the last moment when he can longer bear it and almost screams it at everyone who would listen. The lack of trust in another human in that strange land is so profound that one may only wonder how he was able to live there even for a short while – and in that separation, listen to other peoples’ stories to retell them in writing. It could be audacity, it could be passion, stemming from the author’s conviction that he had something important to say (and of course he did).
The book is full of valuable information about the history and culture of India before 1964, with very interesting descriptions of the Sikh culture and the Punjab. I do not think any other book about India I read was so informative. I also admire the author for what he did, uncovering the country’s hidden, unwholesome features. One needs only to look at the current statistics to see how much India improved since the book was written, in terms of public hygiene for example. Is it thanks to V.S. Naipaul and similar writers or just the natural consequence of years of relative peace and prosperity, one can never know.
The book can be recommended but it is not an easy read. It is actually rather unpleasant and does not reward the reader at the end. Hints of humor available at the beginning of the story (if one really must laugh) are almost gone by the time the book is finished. Another excellent performance by Simon Vance makes the reading easier but also more difficult. The book was intended to sting in the 60-ties and it still does.
The cover is very beautiful, for more than one reason. It is very clear, even in the small format. The lettering is consistent (only two types of fonts, very different from each other). The background is a work of art, though not overly complicated. The color (ripe peach? blood orange?) is spot on. The shape of the flower – obviously a work of art, produced by an experienced artist. It has balance and is very pleasing to the eye. The effect is mysterious, making it fitting for the book’s actual contents. It looks like a cover of a literary classic. Clearly a style to follow and recommend.