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THE MYSTIC MASSEUR - 1957

The Mystic Masseur, the first novel published by V S Naipaul, is perhaps his most well-known especially since it was scripted by another great writer Caryl Phillips for translation into a Merchant-Ivory film of the same name. Its protagonist Ganesh Ramsumair has even been listed as a character in the Chambers Dictionary of Literary Characters. V S Naipaul dedicated the book to his father, and Gordon Woolford, who was a member of the Legislative Council in Guyana at the time of the novel’s setting. Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell contrasts V S Naipaul and George Lamming’s use of dialect in their books, pointing out that “though dialect contains possibilities for conveying ideas and feelings that are peculiarly West Indian, as a ‘distortion’ of Standard English usually employed by the lower classes it is ordinarily not recognised as an adequate vehicle for any philosophical thought”(35).

2001-Present

Roxana Elena Doncu, Professor at the Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Bucharest, in an essay on The Mystic Masseur writes that “[t]he particulars of Ganesh’s local and later metropolitan success are inscribed into the larger picture of a colonial society and its maladies.” Others have looked at him from a similar perspective. “Empire, Power and Language” by Divya Sood is typical of much criticism in V S Naipaul studies as a whole since it looks at Ganesh’s search for identity. Those around the theme of ambivalence are equally ubiquitous. Aaron Eastley’s take on this book is concerned about V S Naipaul’s reading of the 1946 General Elections in Trinidad and Tobago and is one of the few essays willing to examine V S Naipaul's work on politics.

Barbara Lalla, Professor Emerita of Literature at The University of the West Indies, in her essay, “Signifying Nothing: Writing about Nothing in The Mystic Masseur” comments on the “use of the ‘false document’ technique, that is, the explicit projection of the narrative as a record of fact, backed up by repeated reference to other records– all of these records being patently fictitious— this false document technique implicitly undermines the normal authenticating function of records and discredits the value of written discourse that is valourised throughout the action of the novel.”

Interestingly, one of the notable features about the chatter around V S Naipaul is that it is not generated by literary critics or theorists alone. Far more often it is produced by persons in other disciplines and by non-academics. The website called the Dominican Net hosted by Dr. Thomson Fontaine - former IMF economist and Senator in the Parliament of Dominica is a case in point. As is this article by Dr. Emanuel Finn which provides an account of the cultural disorder and confusions that are embedded in The Mystic Masseur’s plot.