The Mimic Men
|Author||V. S. Naipaul|
Not long after finishing A Flag on the Island, Naipaul began work on the novel The Mimic Men, though for almost a year he did not make significant progress. At the end of this period, he was offered a Writer-in-Residence fellowship at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. There, in early 1966, Naipaul began to rewrite his material, and went on to complete the novel quickly. The finished novel broke new ground for him. Unlike his Caribbean work, it was not comic. It did not unfold chronologically. Its language was allusive and ironic, its overall structure whimsical. It had strands of both fiction and non-fiction, a precursor of other Naipaul novels. It was intermittently dense, even obscure, but it also had beautiful passages, especially descriptive ones of the fictional tropical island of Isabella. The subject of sex appeared explicitly for the first time in Naipaul's work.
The plot, to the extent there is one, is centred on a protagonist, Ralph Singh, an Indo-Caribbean politician from Isabella. Singh is in exile in London and attempting to write his political memoirs. Earlier, in the immediate aftermath of decolonisation in a number of British colonies in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Singh had shared political power with a more powerful African Caribbean politician. Soon, the memoirs take on a more personal aspect. There are flashbacks to the formative and defining periods of Singh's life. In many of these, during crucial moments, whether during his childhood, married life, or political career, he appears to abandon engagement and enterprise. These, he rationalizes later, belong only to fully made European societies.
- Ralph Ranjit Kripal Singh or Ralph Singh, the protagonist, born and raised on Isabella, and to which he returned, after a brief stay in England, to start a career as businessman and politician.
- Pa, later Gurudeva, the protagonist's father
- Nana, Singh's maternal grandfather and owner of Bella Bella Bottling Company on Isabella. Died at the end of World War II, bequeathing a sugar cane estate to Ralph.
- Cecil, Nana's son and Singh's mother's brother, not much older than Ralph.
- Sally, Cecil's elder sister, with whom Singh has a fling
- Sandra, a fellow student whom Ralph Singh later married in London and with whom he moved to Isabella.
- Browne, Singh's classmate at Isabella Imperial High School, later co-editor of The Socialist, partner in politics, and Chief Minister of Isabella
- Deschampsneufs, an old French family on Isabella, originally slave-owning.
- Champ Deschampsneufs, classmate of Singh at Isabella Imperial high school, and before that at Isabella Boys School
- Wendy Deschampsneufs, Champ's sister
- Roger Deschampsneufs, Champ's father.
- Sir Hugh Clifford, former British Governor of Isabella, who instituted the Malaya Cup, a horse race. In real life, Sir Hugh was Colonial Secretary of Trinidad from 1903 to 1912.
- Tamango, the Deschampsneufs's entry in the horse race, which was later killed by someone, a suspected Hindu, perhaps even Singh's father, Gurudeva.
- Major Grant, Latin master at Isabella Imperial
- Hok, another classmate of Singh, who dreams about his Chinese ancestry.
- Eden, another classmate of Singh's at Isabella Imperial
- Dalip, Gurudeva's mistress's son
- Mr. Shylock, owner of the boarding-house in which Singh lived upon arriving in London soon after the end of WWII.
- Lieni, the Maltese housekeeper in boarding-house.
- The Murals, later landlords of Singh, six-months after he moved out of Mr Shylock's boarding house.
- Mrs Ellis, the landlady at the time of the engagement of Ralph Singh to Sandra.
- Lord Stockwell, owner of estates on Isabella and British baron.
- Lady Stella Stockwell, Stockwell's daughter with whom Singh has a brief affair.
When The Mimic Men was published, it received generally positive critical notice. In particular, Caribbean politicians, such as Michael Manley and Eric Williams weighed in, the latter writing, "V. S. Naipaul's description of West Indians as 'mimic men' is harsh but true ..."
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