It was a textbook print of John Constable’s painting of Salisbury Cathedral that first sparked a young V.S. Naipaul’s fascination with England, if we believe the semi-autobiographical testimony in his novel “The Enigma of Arrival.” Naipaul’s narrator is a dispassionate but still sympathetic outsider who, in middle age, lives out his boyhood longings, insinuating himself into the life of a crumbling Wiltshire farm estate over a decade.

Naipaul’s novel is a melancholy meditation on place, belonging and change, chronicling the farm’s decline, the lives of neighbors who move in, depart or grow frail and die, and of the narrator’s maturing observations of English life beyond his youthful infatuation. It is, finally, a monologue on his reconciliation with his past and his restless transnational identity.

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