Monday, August 11th, 2003
This morning I started reading The Life of Pi by Yann Martel -- my initial impression is that it is going to be a very good read, but probably not something to put on my list of "great books". I like all the characters I've met so far, I like the author's voice (though I think it seems a little derivative, of what I'm not quite sure but maybe Rushdie), the rhythm of syllables, the flow of words.
Tuesday, August 12th, 2003
I found an essay by Martel: How I Wrote The Life of Pi.
I'm backpedalling from my assertion that the author of whose voice Martel's reminds me might be Rushdie -- I think the only reason I seized on Rushdie is the India connection, well and maybe also the accident-while-traveling-from-Asia-to-North-America* connection. Now the echo I'm hearing is of Vonnegut; equally likely is that Martel has simply an individual, unique voice, one with echoes in it of many authorial influences.
Thinking of Vonnegut leads me into a distinction I wanted to draw between The Life of Pi and Nuns and Soldiers -- Murdoch was annoying me more and more as the book drew on with her absolute refusal to leave anything to my imagination; she insisted on following every germ of description up through its fullness of flower and keep going until it was a withered husk -- I wanted her beautiful descriptions a little less baroque, wanted some hasty sketch in with the luxuriant detail. Martel (from my reading thus far) tends a bit toward the Baroque but reins himself in, lets me figure some of it out.
And I'm going on a hunch here but I think -- if I were to sit down and catalog the books I have loved -- that I would find some inverse correlation between how much detailed description is in the book, and how much I like it -- and I realize as I am writing this that I am phrasing it wrong, I'm not sure just how to put what I'm trying to get at -- if you have a better idea for phrasing let me know.
Vonnegut would be an exception to this rule in a funny way. "Baroque" I guess is not at all a good description for his writing -- but I think he leaves very little to the imagination in his description of his characters' motivations and the consequences of their actions. And yet he was for a long time my very favorite author and is still up there on my (vague) list. I'm not sure quite why -- I have some ideas which I'll try to develop for a post on Vonnegut sometime.
*Update: And now I realize how long it's been since I read The Satanic Verses; I don't think Rushdie's accident even occurred en route from India to America. I'm pretty sure one of the countries involved was Great Britain. Oh well, disregard the whole Rushdie thing.
Thursday, August 28th, 2003
I finished The Life of Pi this afternoon (pity me, for I must return to work tomorrow...), it is a lot of fun to read. Different degrees of truth and fiction are woven together seamlessly, and you move with the narrators in and out of dream and fantasy. But Martel never loses himself in the book, I never got rid of the conscious apprehension that I was being told a story. In a way this seems a little picky; Martel went to some lengths after all to say that everything in the book is a story being told -- so why should I complain about him successfully communicating his point? But that seems like kind of a cheap way out for Martel -- the best thing that can happen in fiction (I think) and maybe also the most difficult, is for the story to emerge as a separate reality, seemingly independant of the narrative voice.
That might have happened briefly in the middle of this book, in the early days of Pi's ordeal at sea -- but it was not sustained. If Martel is saying, as I think he might be, that he is trying to demonstrate that any authorial absense must be illusory -- well, that seems to me like an easy way out. It's a pretty obvious point that has been made by writers going back at least two or three hundred years; but the best of them have been able to make the point without destroying the illusion locally. (I'm not exactly sure who I'm thinking of here but I don't think it would be too hard to find examples. Some bits of Gravity's Rainbow would qualify.)
Anyways... That's my only real criticism of this book and it is not a big problem. I'd recommend it highly.
Monday, September 22nd, 2003
I was reminded a bit of The Life of Pi by this depressing news item from AP (which I saw at the Whiskey Bar):
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. soldier shot and killed a tiger at the Baghdad zoo after it bit another soldier who had reached through the bars of its cage to feed it, a zoo security guard said Saturday.
The soldiers had been drinking beer when they entered the zoo Thursday night after it closed, said the guard, Zuhair Abdul-Majeed. "He was drunk," Abdul-Majeed said of the bitten soldier.
After the man was bit, the other American shot the tiger three times in the head and killed it, Abdul-Majeed told The Associated Press.
Billmon thinks it makes a fine metaphor for the US intervention in Iraq, and I am inclined to agree with him.
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