e a m harris

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Archive for the tag “Yann Martel”

30 Day Book Challenge – day 26: A book I wish would be written


A book I would love to read would be the imaginary biography or autobiography of Richard Parker. (Note, just in case you don’t know: Richard Parker is the tiger in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.)

I’ve always thought that giving him a human name was a brilliant move. It makes him seem more of a character, less of a stereotype. In googling for this post I came across a Wikipedia entry for Richard Parker (shipwrecked) which lists several real and fictional Richard Parkers. Apparently it’s from these stories that Martel got the name.

He had an exciting life: captured as a cub, locked up in a zoo, transported on a ship and shipwrecked, on a lifeboat with a boy, finally free in a Mexican jungle. What happened after that? I’d love to know.

I’m sure that in the end he had (or will have) a dignified death.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.


30 Day Book Challenge – day 14: A book that should be on school and college reading lists

For this day I’ve chosen The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. There are several reasons:

  • the prose of much of the book is worth reading just for itself
  • by being so imaginative it stretches the imagination – IMHO this is particularly important for young people
  • the writing about animals encourages a reassessment of our relationship with them
  • it raises and explores issues about things like survival, reality, the importance of religion
  • the ambiguity of the end allows the reader space to come to their own conclusions about what it all means

life of pi cover artOne of the main things I took away from my reading was the importance of what we name our fellow creatures. The tiger, Richard Parker, has a human name and I found I had a completely different view of him than if he’d been called an animal-style name like Stripey or Felix. Of course, this has been known for a long time, but it hadn’t been a point I’d ever given much thought to.

If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it. If you haven’t seen the film I recommend that too – it’s beautiful, colourful and gripping.

An oblique look at fear and suffering

Just finished reading Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel.

Having loved The Life of Pi, I was expecting to be excited and stimulated, but, for me, this book didn’t quite “take off” in the same way.

Which isn’t to say it’s not beautifully written and very original. It is. I just felt it lacks the poetry of Pi and the interior life of the main character. The latter probably has to do with the fact that Henry, the protagonist of Beatrice and Virgil, is not isolated and interacts with a number of other people; so we see his character in conversation and action rather than in thought.

The story is simple. The use of the story-within-a-story technique spins it out and allows the characters to comment in ways they wouldn’t in a straightforward telling. But it also slows it down. Until about half-way through I found the lack of action annoying and kept wondering if I’d finish the book. But gradually it hooked me and I’m glad I gave it the chance.

It deals with huge issues: relations between humans and animals, affection and friendship, fear, pain, suffering and forgiveness among them. Instead of full-on discussion these themes edge sideways into partial view. The reader is allowed to share Henry’s puzzlement over what it all means.

I’m still not sure why it harks back so strongly to Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, but it forced me to reconsider that play, which I studied many years ago and thought I understood.

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