Should we stop reading into authors’ lives and get back to their books?

There are so many good writers whose politics and opinions leave us queasy about enjoying their work, though more would object to VS Naipaul than Charles Dickens. But is a story also a celebration of its author?

As soon as the news of VS Naipaul’s death broke a few weeks ago, a thousand think pieces rose as one, as though to take his place. His legacy was both attacked and defended, his misogyny and racism condemned and forgiven. This frenzied conversation crystallised around a question readers have been grappling with for years, but with increasing urgency: to what extent should we consider an artist’s personality, politics and ethics relevant to our appreciation of their work?

It seems that almost no one can separate the writer from the books when it comes to Naipaul. The same is true of our response to work by authors who have recently been accused of ...