In waspish literary London, where rumor, feud and insult are natural accompaniments to the canapes and white wine of the book-launch circuit, battle lines and lines of defense are being drawn up in a feud between celebrated writers Paul Theroux and V.S. Naipaul.

After more than 30 years of friendship, Theroux, the 57-year-old American author of "The Great Railway Bazaar" and "The Mosquito Coast," has fallen out with Naipaul, his former mentor. Theroux has completed a draft of a revenge memoir that reportedly savages Naipaul and his second wife, Nadira.Theroux's attack is so harsh that his British publisher, Hamish Hamilton, apparently fears that the book may have to be recast before it can be printed here.

Their quarrel began in spring 1996, shortly after the death of Naipaul's first wife, Patricia, when he suddenly married a 38-year-old Pakistani newspaper columnist.

When Nadira moved into Naipaul's London apartment and country cottage - styling herself as Lady Naipaul, although her husband does not use the title he received for services to literature in 1990 - she cleared out hundreds of books.

Among the works she sent off to the antique-book dealers for auction were several of Theroux's first editions, complete with affectionate inscriptions to his friend Vidia. Hurt and insulted, Theroux dispatched a heated fax to his old friend. Nadira answered it. The dispute escalated; six months ago, Theroux cut off all communication and decided to write a book about the friendship instead.

- By Vanora Bennett

Los Angeles Times