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V. S. Naipaul: The Mystic Masseur

This was Naipaul’s first published novel, though he had written one before, which was not published. It is more or less the traditional rags-to-riches story, telling the story of Ganesh Ramsumair, who rises from being a poor teacher, then a masseur, followed by a career as a mystic, finally becoming a politician, fully co-opted by the colonial regime. While Naipaul’s approach has been compared, variously, to Dickens and to Arnold Bennett (his The Card (US: Denry the Audacious) is an obvious comparison), it seems to me that there is more than a touch of Evelyn Waugh at play here, with his detached, wry amusement at the plight of his hero. Of course, Waugh is more willing and able at really sticking the knife into his unfortunate characters than Naipaul, who prefers a more detached approach, but, nevertheless, Waugh’s satirical approach is still there. Naipaul is not adverse to poking fun at the various segments of the Indian community in Trinidad, from their gullibility and chicanery to their commercial and political opportunism and you can only laugh as he does so. It was not a great commercial success but it remains a very amusing novel.

Publishing history

First published by André Deutsch in 1957