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V.S. Naipaul in 2016 (Faizul Latif Chowdhury CC BY-SA 4.0)

The first word that comes to mind when I think about Vidia Naipaul is loveability. This may surprise some people, the Times obituarist for example, who claims that “he succeeded in getting up the noses of almost everyone he encountered”. But it won’t surprise Vidia’s many friends.

Loveability is, of course, completely subjective. The Vidia I knew was friendly, warm-hearted (not quite the same as kind-hearted), curious, responsive, humorous (and able to laugh at himself), convivial, mischievous, never hypocritical, fearless — and vulnerable. And he had a lovely face, which always helps.

He was nothing if not surprising. I remember one occasion, for example,  while picnicking in New York’s Central Park with Vidia and his first wife Pat. I had taken my camera in order to take pictures of my children and of the Naipauls. When I asked Vidia to glance in my direction for a moment, he said “No, no Miriam,” (he often used one’s name in conversation), “that’s not how you do it. What you do is this: you ask someone to pose for you, you aim the camera at them, and then you do nothing. You wait. Finally, their face will disintegrate. Then you click.”

I first met Vidia and Pat nearly 50 years ago, when I was invited with my former husband John Gross (a close, lifelong friend of Vidia’s) to a dinner party at their house in Stockwell, south London. Two things particularly struck me on that evening: that Vidia dominated the room with his charm and ebullience; and that he shamelessly treated his wife like a servant. In fact Pat, as I soon learned, was his housekeeper, his secretary, his editorial adviser and, in the early years of their marriage, the breadwinner.

Later, when we became friends, I realised that Pat, despite being a very intelligent person, accepted her submissive role as the price for being the wife of a literary genius. In fact her doormatty attitude seemed to me to irritate Vidia into being more rather than less imperious. But marriages are always mysterious, and theirs appears to have been for many years a close partnership.
Twenty or so years after they married I was talking to Vidia at a drinks party when he suddenly announced, in a rather loud voice, “Miriam — I have fallen in love.” The way he said it implied that this was a novel experience for him. Luckily Pat, who was somewhere in the room, was not within earshot. Vidia went on to tell me that he had met an Anglo-Argentinian girl, Margaret, and could think of nothing else, day and night.

A few weeks later I was invited, along with a few other friends, to a lunch to meet this Margaret. We were braced for a raven-haired beauty with castanets and flashing eyes. Margaret, it turned out, was a  typically English-looking girl. She had a slight resemblance to Pat — though she was much more vivacious and assertive. The affair lasted for more than ten years.
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