One year before he published his first book, Paul Theroux met V.S. Naipaul-Vidia, as he was known. For thirty years both men remained in close touch, even when continents separated them. Sir Vidia's Shadow is a double portrait of the writing life, but it is much more, for travel and reading and emotional ups and downs are also aspects of this friendship, which is powerful and enriching and often a comedy - and, ultimately, a bridge that is burned. Built around exotic landscapes, anecdotes that are revealing, humorous, and melancholy, and three decades of mutual history, this is a very personal account of how one develops as a writer, how a friendship waxes and wanes between two men who have set themselves on the perilous journey of a writing life, and what constitutes the relationship of mentor and student.
Throughout, Theroux describes an unmooring needed to observe and write, his mostly via travel and Naipaul’s due to lack of belonging to any particular culture. The artist Andrew Wyeth is an example of one who did not ever physically leave home, yet was deeply observant of life and the human experience. Wyeth did, though, unmoor himself from the artist father that he loved deeply, his work was a rejection and surpassing of his father’s work.
At its essence, this book is about that unmooring, the story of a son coming to terms with his relationship to his “father.”
The friendship began in Uganda when Theroux was a young man longing to be a writer. Naipaul believed in him, challenged him, demanded of him, and gave him what he needed to become the writer he became. Theroux doesn’t realize he has outgrown the relationship until Naipaul rejects him, and thereby frees him. And then Theroux writes this book, describing his journey in Vidia’s shadow, finally voicing his own reality.
Theroux closes with: “I was dazed, because I was liberated at last. I saw how the end of a friendship was the start of an understanding. He had made me his by choosing me; his rejection of me meant I was on my own, out of his shadow. He had freed me, he had opened my eyes. . . “
This book opened with the ending, as well: “It is a good thing that time is a light, because so much of life is mumbling shadows and the future is just silence and darkness. But time passes, time’s torch illuminates, it finds connections, it makes sense of confusion, it reveals the truth.”