Monday, August 16, 2010

Life of Pi, Fragile Things

I decided to try Life of Pi pretty randomly.  I remembered hearing good things about it, though I couldn't remember what they were any more, and it was a Booker award winner.  So how bad could it be?

The answer is pretty bad, unfortunately.  I take that back a bit -- the book wasn't terrible, the way, say, Absolute Power was terrible (that one was so bad I couldn't be bothered to write about it).  But it's hard to see how it won the Booker.  I thought that its religious philosophy was jejune (all religions are just different lenses to see God with) and its message about stories pretty thin as well (when you're given two explanations for something, choose the one with the better story).

On top of that, Martel wants the story to fit into exactly 100 chapters, and there's a lot of forcing that goes into that, including several one-sentence chapters.  Even worse, not only does Pi tell us that the story has 100 chapters, just so we know how clever Martel is, but it doesn't make any sense that Pi should tell us that, since he didn't divide out some of the chapters.

Which brings me to another point -- Martel hammers home his messages in such a sophomoric way that it's almost insulting.  At one point, he goes so far as to have one listener say to another "do you see how these two stories map to each other?  The orangutan is the mother, the cook is the hyena, and so on."  OK, we get it.

Neil Gaiman is another writer who is sometimes too clever by half.  He knows a lot of stuff, and isn't afraid of showing it.  But, as the stories in Fragile Things show, he's willing to give you a glimpse of a story, then get out of the way while you savor it.  His stories can have a haunting quality, because he gives you just enough information for you to get the rest on your own.

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