The Nashville Connection:  This  article from the Tennessean explains our mayor’s Nashville Reads campaign.  So last October the community partnership involved chose for The Handmaid’s Tale for the city to read and discuss.  A respectable choice, if perhaps, a little dated.  This month the choice was Life of Pi, which overcomes the previous objection by virtue of its film version out last year.  Fair enough, but I suppose this is still a re-read for most of the city’s bookworms, including TNR.  I find that unfortunate only because we have a vibrant writer’s scene in town and a bookstore that specifically supports local authors.  Hooray for Chuck Beard and Eastside Story!

 

I dislike reviewing books that I have read before, because I come to them already affected by the story; with preconceived notions that are rooted in past immaturities.  Also, I rarely re-read books, Watership Down, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Tiger’s Wife may be the only books that I have ever voluntarily re-read.  That said, it’s hard to ignore a city-wide campaign, and Yann Martel did speak in Nashville today.

Yann Martel

a decent re-read
a decent re-read

Title:  Life of Pi                                    Author:  Yann Martel                   Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication Date:  06/28/2002  Format: Hardcover                                     Genre: literary fiction

Rating:  So, I was a fresh B.A. in philosophy when this book was published.  I had some preconceived notions going into my first reading of the book, and even more with this second reading.  Furthermore, this second reading came after one of my new and beloved favorite’s The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.  I think I appreciated Life of Pi as a novel a bit more this time around.  This was a 4 out of 5 for TNR (still a good book, and about my favorite subjects, but…)

Overview (reprinted from Barnes and Noble.com):  After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound royal bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.

Review:  This is a beautiful novel about the inter-dependence of creation and man’s understanding or lack thereof for his place in it.  It is a densely packed book and at times heavy handed in requiring the reader to accept the underlying philosophy of the story.  But, if you are going to jump into a lifeboat with someone, it’s probably best to  understand them from the beginning.  On the other hand, if you are going to be stuck on a desert island, you might wish for more time and more space to decide for yourself what you would or would not believe about a story like this.

Overall, it has every element that shows up in my very favorite novels:  a message of hope and faith, lots of animals, and a narrative that is well-blended into its surroundings.  On the down-side:  because I knew the story, I was constantly wanting to skip pages just to get to the next phase of the plot, also, the prose is too heavy, and forces a reader who may be uninformed to make or accept weighty philosophical judgments.

However Martel seems to realize this, or to have done it on purpose, because he handles it extremely well.  This book could have seemed contrived, what with the major plot relying on a shipwreck and many other arbitrary circumstances, but it avoids the feeling of the author forcibly lifting the reader into a place that one can hardly believe the character would go. Yann Martel also manages to construct a timeline that makes every circumstance just vague enough to be palatable, while at the same time giving us enough detail to understand everything we might want to know about Pi.

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