V S NAIPAUL, widely regarded as the greatest living writer in the English language, has confessed to a mistress and a youthful penchant for prostitutes in an a interview to be published tomorrow in the New Yorker magazine.
Trinidad-born Naipaul, who has won almost every literary prize since he began writing in London in the 1950s, is renowned for his regal manner and intolerance of imperfection in himself and others.
He has been married for more than 40 years, but no hint of this side of his life has intruded into his work, despite the autobiographical nature of many of his novels. While some of his critics have claimed that Naipaul's writing betrays a disgust of sex, the writer, now 60, has told the New Yorker that as a young man he had tremendous 'unfulfilled' sexual drive.
'I was a passionate man. I wasn't spurned; it was incompetence . . . There were many girls who were very friendly, and I didn't know how to cope with it.
'I really don't know how people learn about the art of seduction . . . so I became a great prostitute man, which . . . is highly unsatisfactory. Its the most unsatisfying kind of sex. Horrible . . . However much you tell yourself otherwise, its worthless.'
He also tells his interviewer, Stephen Schiff, that real sexual passion came only when he met his mistress, Margaret, an Argentinian of British descent, in the 1970s.
'I feel a lot of my creative energy has come from that,' he confesses. 'I'm most grateful, yes, I'm delighted to have had it. It would have been terrible to have died without it. So that didn't destroy the writer - it built him up a bit. She was someone who didn't care a damn about my work, who'd never heard of me.'
Margaret, a married woman with three children, was 10 years younger than Naipaul.
He also reveals he has 'fallen out of love' with Wiltshire, where he lives with his wife, Patsy, whom he met at Oxford, and can therefore no longer work in the garden. His wife has dedicated most of her life to advising Naipaul and doing research but has hardly featured in his books except when she was referred to as his 'companion' in his first travel book about India, An Area of Darkness. They have no children.
Mr Schiff describes how Patsy serves a fish for lunch, followed by rhubarb pie and endless tea during the interview and appears hovering in doorways as if waiting for an audience. Occasionally she scolds Naipaul over his eccentric and more excessive comments. Mr Schiff says outsiders would probably find their relationship disquieting.
Naipaul, knighted in 1990, claims to have been an adorer of women most his life. 'I loved their voices. I loved the quality of their skin.' He claims that they have sunk in his esteem as he has grown older. But in his writing lust often degenerates into revulsion. The disclosures about Naipaul's private life come in a 9,000-word article which sympathetically explores the man and his work.
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