I got the new VS Naipaul book this morning, “The Masque of Africa”, his first new title for about five years or so, and his first travel book since 1998’s “Beyond Belief”. Naipaul is one of my touchstone writers; I don’t think anyone would detect his influence in the way I write or what I write about, but he is immensely important to me and I’ve been reading him for years. This new book looks at the surviving traces of Africa’s native religious beliefs, and their uneasy cohabitation with the twin imperialist religions of Christianity and Islam.
Naipaul is an extremely controversial figure, both on the left and the right (when you can piss off left-wingers and conservatives, you must be doing something right), and his unforgiving gaze has produced some of the greatest writing of the 20th century. I’ve only just started the book, but in the stripped down, clinical prose, and in the unsentimental thrust of his observation, I can already tell that he hasn’t lost any of his force. To have travelled so extensively in such a demanding continent and to have produced something like this at the age of 78 is humbling. He’s an old man, but I hope this isn’t his last book.