A collection of nonfiction writings includes discussions of the writers who have influenced the author's literary career, his early encounters with literary culture, the impact of the works of Gandhi and other Indian writers, and reflections on his life and family history.
It is quite likely that winning the Nobel Prize in some sense devastated Naipaul. Since winning the prize in 2001, he has not produced any major works, with only Magic Seeds appearing in 2004 and this collection of essays A writer's people. Ways of looking and feeling in 2007. fans of Naipaul had to wait till 2010 for his next book, The Masque of Africa.
The essays are very well-written, and, going by their titles could have been very interesting. "Worm in the bud" outlines Naipaul's growth and genesis as a writer, but his self-centredness makes his appear the central axis of the universe. While one might argue that within his world, that is the world of his creation, the author is, in fact, the central creating force, real-life references to his father and contemporaries make this first essay seem overly self-centred.
The second essay, "An English way of looking" consists of an uncalled for cowardly back stabbing beyond the grave of Anthony Powell, whom Naipaul elsewhere called his friend. The author describes how soon after coming to England as a beginning author, he met Anthony Powell, and it is clear that to some extent, this friendship benefitted Mr Naipaul. It is all the more strange that he goes on to describe his disappointment in Powell. Whatever the merits or demerits of Powell's work, Naipaul's condemnation of that work as a pinnacle of mediocrity is futher proof of the bad taste of this essay collection.
Naipaul has written extensively on India, but the third essay, "Looking and not seeing: the Indian way" adds nothing to it. It is a longish, boring essay, mainly on Indian history, which reads like an occasional piece pulled of the shelf to act as a filler, as with the fifth essay "India again: the mahatma and after". It is therefore puzzling why the two essays about India are separated by the essays called "Disparate ways", which mainly deals with the work of Gustave Falubert.
Some of the essays feel as if they have been "prepared" for this collection. this is noticeable by a sudden swing in the focus of the essay, as if a number of introductory paragraphs or pages was added. The result is a sense of disorientation, as the main focus of some of the essays is different from what the first two pages lead in to.
Readable, but unfair.