V.S. Naipaul’s novel Half a Life is the story of Willie Chandran and his desire to erase the mistakes of his father, who married his mother not out of desire for her but because he wished to do something of substance with his life. The marriage was one of circumstance, not love and though Willie wishes to break this chain of events, what he does more than anything is follow in his father’s footsteps. He does not act of his own accord, but follows others, latches on and allows the waters of fate to drift him here or there. It is not until the end of the book that Willie does make a break for himself, but even then it is to go and live with his sister. He is still relying on the women in his life to show him who he is.
Fascinating to me was how this book was told—moving back and forth between first and third person as different layers are revealed. In the beginning, the boy Willie hears his father’s story in first person. Then the majority of Willie’s young life is told in 3rd, until finally, in Germany, he tells the remainder of his story to his sister in 1st person. So, in the end, revealing his story of hope and shame, Willie once again reflects his father.