Monday, July 20, 2009

Miguel Street

"Like the great masters of the past, V.S. Naipaul tells stories which show us ourselves and the reality we live in. His use of language is as precise as it is beautiful. Simple, strong words, with which to express the humanity of all of us." David Pryce-Jones
Recently I was telling a colleague of mine that I still remember stories from Response, a collection of short stories written by such West Indian greats as Merle Hodge and Michael Anthony. That's how she came to tell me that she still remembers stories from Miguel Street, Naipaul's third work of fiction. These are books we read in grade nine, need I tell you, a long time ago. I had read stories from Miguel Street but never the whole collection, and now my curiousity was piqued.

Now reading from the perspective of an old goat who has seen and done quite a bit is somewhat different from reading as a fourteen year old on the cusp of adulthood, so Miguel Street won't be etched in my mind the way Response is.

But it is a memorable read nonetheless. It is a collection of short stories but it resembles a novel, being unified by the same narrator, same characters and the same location. So each chapter is really a biography of one or another of the flawed, stroke, ordinary people who live on Miguel Street. I say biography because although the stories are no more than ten or so pages long, and center around everyday events in the characters' lives, one still walks away with the sense of being told what drives that person's life.

I absolutely enjoyed reading the Trini dialect, and fancied that my attempt at producing the accent was authentic. The second World War as backdrop provides interesting insights into how the world scene can affect us, the little dots on the map. There is plenty from the landscape of West Indian life in general and Trinidadian life in particular, with treats from cricket, popular calypsoes at the time and much more.

"[Naipaul] just annoys me so much... I think probably the only people who'll say good things about him are Western people, right- wing people." Jamaica Kincaid
It seemed to me that most of the men in Miguel Street are dysfuntional; they beat their wives- or are beaten by their wives, or they live in some concocted version of reality, or have some sad notion of masculinity, or are puny in some way or other. Two women get a story all to themselves. One has eight children each for different men, that's the only way she could remain in control of her life, yet she regrets the path of her life for she drives her teenage daughtor who becomes pregnant to suicide (so it looks to me). The other woman runs off with a pitiful loser who beats her to a pulp before she eventually goes back to lounging on her doctor husband's lawn in her short shorts.
A condescending treatment of his own? Or the truth about people in general?
I found Miguel Street a whole lot easier to read than A House for Mr. Biswas. I never read Mimic Men but it is highly recommended by my father, so it's on my list of to read. V.S Naipaul, the author of Miguel Street and fourteen other works of fiction as well as several works of nonfiction is the 2001 Nobel laureate for literature.


Daisy Soap Girl said...

These are very interesting and will be on my list for reading. I hope I can find them here.

Jdid said...

I had an aversion to Naipaul cause Biswas was one of the books they foisted on us for CXC and me and a buddy of mine tried to read it the summer before 5th form even though the teachers ended up not using it at all. Never finished it anyways.

But Miguel Street I just love that book. The thing is I know Trini people who absolutely dislike it cause they say its as usual Biswas dissing Trini and Caribbean people by poking fun at the characters in Miguel Street. I sorta feel what they saying but at the same time I think its hilarious.