“Garbage” is possibly the most overused word in the book. Naipaul sees garbage everywhere – even the rare absence of garbage impresses. On one page the word is used four times in six lines, and on another he sounds almost like J. G. Ballard: “Hidden from the cathedral and its gardens were moraines of garbage that lay in all the streets of the town. Africa reclaiming its own”. Exasperation and weary derision become the standard tones he employs.
And perhaps with good reason — this sort of thing is a disappointment, and/but there is an explanation:
And, in a most un-Naipaulian way, the writing slackens – there’s a sprinkling of clichés: “shot his bolt”, “rang a bell”, “we were in good hands”, “a little bit at sea”, “beating about the bush”.
One might have thought that an editorial hand would have smoothed out these infelicities but we now know (the French Effect [“French” being his authorized, and candid, biographer]) that Naipaul admits no editorial intrusion.
The result is that the tone of the book seems to possess something of the quality of a first draft or one that has been dictated and then cursorily read through. In fact, we now know that instead of writing a draft Naipaul often first dictated portions of his books to his wife. The French Effect, again.