Naipaul’s (and De Chirico’s) The Enigma of Arrival


Brooklyn novelist Ian MacKenzie, author of City of Strangers, has compiled a list of the best novels that display a fascination with art. His list includes James Joyce, Henry James, Stendhal . . . and at no. 3, V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival. Here is what MacKenzie had to say about the relationship between Giorgio de Chirico’s painting (above) and Naipaul’s novel.

 Naipaul’s complexly autobiographical novel borrows its title from a work by Giorgio de Chirico. That painting provides the inspiration for a not-quite novel-within-the-novel – one the nameless first-person narrator dwells on but never writes – about a visitor who arrives at an ancient port city and begins a journey of self-discovery that moves toward an unforeseen ending. The same is basically true of Naipaul’s own biography, and of the path taken by the not-quite Naipaul in this extraordinary piece of literature. The book’s controlled prose is as cool, liquid, and bewitching as the painting from which it takes its name. 

The complete list can be found at

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