Guerrillas by Sir V.S. Naipaul is a postcolonial novel published in 1975 by André Deutsch. V.S. Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in the year 2001, despite being nominated since the past few decades after writing works of the highest quality in non-fiction and fiction. He wasn’t a poet and never published a single poem in his life, yet he was ranked as one of the most authoritative and versatile voices in literature. Considered one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, and in my view, one of the writers who never moved his eyes away from reality. A fierce writer who stared into the abyss and never blinked; kept observing and translated his emotions into the written word. He published more than thirty works in total encompassing fiction and non-fiction, most notably travel-writing but in his language, books of enquiry which offered penetrating insights into the third world such as India, Middle Eastern countries and Africa. He offended, provoked and inflamed the sentiments of people who found it difficult to bear the cynical and pessimistic anatomy of Naipaul’s body of works. The most compelling aspect of Naipaul’s literature is, despite his exploration of the exterior world, he wrote books which were most personal to him. It is complicated to differentiate between the emotional history of Naipaul the man and the writer. The first half of his career was spent in writing brilliant books filled with satire and comical set pieces encompassing a vast variety of Dickensian characters and Victorian humour, albeit set in Trinidad. Miguel Street, The Mystic Masseur, Suffrage of Elvira, and A House for Mr Biswas comprised his early writing; it was A House for Mr Biswas which brought Naipaul international renown and widespread acclaim because the novel was considered a masterpiece almost unanimously. Naipaul’s empathy, compassion and subtle humour are at the highest pedestal in this work, and it is the primary book for which he is still well known over the world.
His later works, beginning from An Enigma of Arrival, In A Free State, Guerrillas, and A Bend in the River showcase his complete transformation. He, who once wrote great comical books and aspired to be Evelyn Waugh, began to write disconcerting and realistic works; shocking to the reader’s mind. Naipaul’s long career is one of the most magnificent and complicated legacies in the history of literature. For the first time, he had discovered tension, pain and sexuality in his works; the fluidity of his prose reached the heights of his capabilities, and his works were terrific. A House for Mr Biswas had shoals of married characters, yet not a single scene of sexual intimacy or lust was portrayed by Naipaul; and A Bend in The River as a brutal prognosis of sexual lust and possession which was even more deeply represented in Guerrillas’ characters James Ahmed, Roche, and Jane. The story was inspired by Michael X. and his act of murder; killing his friend and his girlfriend.
Naipaul’s works transformed from storytelling and irony to the tension, despair and the sound of buried history in the landscape of Postcolonial countries and how the landscape burdens the people living there. Naipaul is not a role model for the liberals but inspired envy in multiple writers of the time and his peers. Naipaul was reviled and revered in equal measures, and much more is revealed in Patrick French’s masterful biography. Guerrillas was published before Vidya Naipaul’s strongest work in my humble opinion A Bend in The River. A terrifying novel on postcolonial Africa. Guerrillas deals with most of the same themes as in A Bend in The River but is a minor key of a novel. It is minimalistic, small in scale and sparse; yet terrifically paced and disturbing.
Although it pales in comparison to A Bend in the River due to the latter being more well written, exquisite, terrifying and penetrative without having the taint of Naipaulian prejudice and fanaticism. Even though one may argue, by all means, Guerrillas is a terrific novel of its time and a shadow of Naipaul’s strongest work. A well-paced and entertaining book, Guerrillas never falters but proves to be a political thriller which disturbs the privacy of the three main protagonists. Political disturbance gives birth to sexual frustration and impotency of character. It shows conflicting personalities and makes the reader understand their deeper problems; it has the experience of a novella rather than a novel. Naipaul’s genius lies in his craft of building striking characters with a suppressed sense of darkness; hidden evil which lurks within. There is buried evil in all of the characters portrayed in the novel and all of them, in one way or another, are trying to escape. Jane wants to leave the island and go to London, Jimmy wants to hold up a rebellion in order to prove his manhood and escape his darkness, and Roche found his escapism in Jane, the girl he wished to possess, but is unable to do so and with his wit, his maturity and psychological sense of stoicism, tries to escape the clutches of his problems which emasculate him. In a sense, this is a novel about emasculation and defeminisation.
Well, as a side note, most readers of our time may detest the portrayal of Jane in this novel because according to the current political and personal climate, it may be considered misogynistic. Yet, considering the range of characters in this novel, most of them lack empathy and don’t arouse any sympathy from the reader; a tormented bunch of people trying to escape their own demons are trapped within themselves; thus, they inflict pain on each other. So, in a way, Naipaul can be excused for that portrayal because, firstly, it was a different time and the context in which Naipaul wrote never allowed him to examine the portrayal of women per se in his novels. I am not justifying some of his prejudices toward women and multi-racial people, but one has to accept that, in his portrayal of characters, there is something higher and more profound than abstract simplicities such as misogyny and misandry. The prose is mind-blowing, as in all Naipaulian works; how he writes about the landscape, the detritus, the downfall and decline of civilisation in entire juxtaposition to his characters’ dyspeptic psychological troubles is phenomenally good. This short novel is not his legendary masterpiece but showcases the versatility of his writing and his revolutionary work in the field of postcolonialism; Naipaul has reached octaves more dynamic and even disturbing than most of his novels, only to be topped and mastered in his later book A Bend In The River.