Monday, January 3, 2005
Yann Martel's much touted _Life of Pi_ (Pi being the self-chosen nickname of the protagonist, Piscine Molitar Patel). The book was chock full of interesting zoological observations and piquant quips about faith and rationalism. (I'm very curious what sort of research Martel did to learn so many zoological trivia.) Martel's re-telling of the "one big story" of the Cross was one of the most riveting tellings of the divine mystery of crucified love I have ever read. He could stand to sharpen his wit and comic angles, but Martel's style is on the whole refreshingly simple, whimsical and refreshingly optimistic.
As for its vision, or moral, _Life of Pi_ is a delightful and very subdued odyssey of hope which unfortunately sacrifices faithfulness on the altar of faith. Faith per se is, for Martel, apparently the _summum bonum_. Not the object or effect of that faith, but faith itself as a general faculty of the human person. ("Don't just stand there, believe _something_!") Martel all too coyly enshrines Jesus the Savior-Man in the frenzied pantheon of Hindu piety without honestly facing Jesus the Lord-God. Indeed, at times Pi's (or Martel's) goggle-eyed zest for all things Hindu-Christian-Islam bleeds through in some tacky blotches of affected prose.
In terms of the novel's integrity, I can't tell if Martel deliberately left some major themes (and motifs) inarticulate or if he simply botched their development. I also am not savvy enough in literary analysis to tell whether Martel wrote an intentionally fragmented book (along postmodern lines) or if he simply failed to forge strong enough narrative bonds between Pi's life in India and his trials on the sea. But the boy sure seemed to get over the loss of his family a little spritely for my tastes.
I could say much more. I've waited quite a while to read this book and I wasn't disappointed. I may very well read it again. Its subtelty speaks of a deep and surprising philosophical riddle. Bravo, Mr. Martel.