|Much of the "action" of The Enigma of Arrival takes place in Wiltshire, England.|
The Enigma of Arrival (1987)
by V.S. Naipaul
Naipaul's status as the child of an East Indian immigrant who came to an English colony in the Caribbean on an island with a long history as a Spanish colony before it's take-over by the English. He is a kind of emblem of the British empire, with his DNA containing the entire story of the British conquest in the globe in the 18th and 19th century. Of course, Naipaul is aware of this history, but it is an inheritance that doesn't control Naipaul and his prose.
The Enigma of Arrival is an excellent example of the way Naipaul transcends his rich inheritance. A largely auto-biographical work of fiction that mostly takes place in Wiltshire, England, where Naipaul rented a cottage for several years to work on his writing, after he had made enough headway to afford to work full time on fiction.
Naipaul alternates between memories tied to his upbringing in Trinidad and subsequent emigration to England and the present of life in Wiltshire, where the decrepit estate which houses his rented cottage is slowly collapsing into ruin. His portraits of the characters in his little rural valley are so convincing that it is difficult to believe that is they who are the fictional element of The Enigma of Arrival. The close observation of his neighbors is like an inversion of colonialism, the coolie returned to England to get a good look at the sahib,
At the same time, Naipaul is well aware of the role that this Empire has had in his own education and his own present as someone who could afford to rent a cottage and write all day. One of the major themes in The Enigma of Arrival is the way that struggling to escape Trinidad shaped his subsequent experience outside of Trinidad.