Former friends and longtime enemies V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux had a public reconciliation at the Jaipur Literary Festival in India this week.
Naipaul, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001, is notoriously irascible. A celebration of his breakthrough 1961 novel, “A House for Mr. Biswas,” was planned for the Jaipur Literary Festival, but it was not known if Naipaul would participate. He had canceled a BBC interview days before.
But Naipaul did attend. The 82-year-old author, who has Parkinson’s disease, sat in the front row and, during a discussion of the ups and downs of his relationship with Theroux gave a thumbs-up, the Guardian reports.
Theroux was teaching in Uganda in the 1960s when he met Naipaul, who was there on a visit. The two became friends and then each moved to England, where Naipaul introduced Theroux to his literary circle. Ten years younger than Naipaul, who was already internationally known, Theroux became, as the Guardian puts it, his “literary disciple.” He even wrote a book devoted to Naipaul’s work.
But things fell apart after Naipaul’s first wife died and he remarried; Theroux discovered books he’d lovingly inscribed to the couple listed for sale in a rare books catalog. Communication faltered; their relationship disintegrated.
Theroux wrote a poison-pen memoir of their friendship and its ending, the book “In Sir Vidia’s Shadow,” cementing their feud. The two didn’t speak for 15 years, and then their silence was only broken by a handshake backstage at the Hay literature festival in 2011.
Their public reconciliation in Jaipur was dramatic. Naipaul was brought on stage in his wheelchair. “Thank you all very much. I want to thank the speakers who have been very generous,” he said, before his face crumpled and he struggled to maintain his composure, the National Post reports. A photograph shows him clutching Theroux’s hand. His wife stepped in, saying, “I think my husband is overwhelmed.”