The quotes from the papers, all over the front and back of this one (another charity shop find), are scattered with ‘brilliant…best novel this year…masterpiece…etc’ So I began with high expectations. Made higher by the gold banner across the front announcing ‘Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature’. What unfolds is the story of a mixed caste boy growing up in India, studying in London and moving to a Portuguese colony in Africa, with all sorts of relationships along the way. And mixed is a key word here. Many characters are mixed race, or moving across social boundaries, or living in places that are part one thing, part something else. And the book itself is mixed – starting as a 3rd person narrative, ending with 86 pages of a first person letter to his sister and finishing the story, well, about halfway through a life.

Having read it, and it was a pleasantly enjoyable read, I feel as though I ought to know more about what it is to be ‘betwixt and between’ as the characters’ lives in the book are lived. But I don’t think I do. ‘Never been funnier’ reviews the Independent on Sunday on the front cover. I don’t recall laughing once. Then one of those strange syncronicities – in a freebie London paper on a train home I came across an article about author and Orange Prize winner Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie with the column title ‘Another dig at Naipaul from a literary peer’. “I’ve become very tired of this nonsense that he’s supposed to be the best writer in the world…I wish him well, but just because you’re an old man who’s nasty doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t actually take your work apart”. Gosh. So I Googled. And she’s not alone. Wikipedia (must be true ?) doesn’t hold back – it describes what would normally be called ‘private life’ statements. I’m not sure that many people would be happy with a ‘visiting many prostitutes whilst first wife dying of cancer’ type of epitaph.

So I’m wondering…perhaps for me reading this book isn’t about the book – it’s about how ‘experts’ views are not always a reliable indicator of personal experience, how views are swayed and influenced (and indeed if there has been some ‘emperor’s new clothes’ going on here), and how winning a highest award possible doesn’t inevitably mean you’re going to be happy, a role model or universally loved. Life is big.

And perhaps you don’t have to travel between countries or be of mixed race to feel ‘betwixt and between’. Perhaps it’s just part of the human condition. Perhaps the reasons may be more obvious for some, but that we are all partly ‘part of’ and partly ‘separate from’ the world, people and culture around us.