Life of Pi by Yann Martel

by Casee Marie on July 30, 2014 · 0 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

Life of Pi, Yann Martel’s Booker-winning literary achievement, tells the story of sixteen year-old Piscine “Pi” Patel, the son of a zookeeper who, at sixteen, leaves his native India with his family and a menagerie of their zoo animals on a Japanse cargo ship. The Patels are bound for a new life in Canada, but when the ship sinks Pi finds himself the sole human survivor on a lifeboat also carrying a dazed orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, an ornery hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. As the circle of life progresses even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Pi and the tiger are soon all that remain. What follows is a literary patchwork of magical realism, seafaring survival, and the infinite reaches of faith.

Like so many books dubbed masterworks of recent literature – or simply “modern classics” – Life of Pi is a book that draws reactions diverse in the extreme. As with any novel, some readers will regret their time spent and for others the experience will be in their blood forever. I’m of the latter persuasion; this is the sort of novel that makes me stop to celebrate the sheer magic that a good story can achieve. I certainly count Pi Patel among the most richly-imagined characters I’ve ever read; he and his story of a boy and a tiger in a boat, simple on the surface yet impossibly complex underneath (much like the Pacific itself), will be with me for a very long time.

Martel lays the foundation for the tale with the words, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” So much is encompassed in that one sentence; it seems to tell us in advance that the story we are about to read will either move us or frustrate us beyond definition – as religion often does – and that we will many times find ourselves at a crossroads of faith. Faith is itself a main character, a survivor on that lifeboat, but the shape it takes in here is one of the most beautiful and, I think, most enchanting interpretations I’ve experienced. In the early chapters of the book we learn of Pi’s unconventional spiritual leanings: towards that of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. He lays his imaginative and ever-loving heart before the reader when, at the furrowed brows of his earthbound leaders – father, priest, imam, and pujari – young Pi simply says, “I just want to love God!” He does; and as his capacity for love transcends religious confines so does it transcend the hopelessness of tragedy and the chaos of desperation. In this alone, Pi and his story would be enough, but through Pi’s narrative Martel explores faith and life and love even further, shifting from witty to philosophical, from real to surreal. Within this intricate tapestry of art is the power to impact a reader’s life, the sort of impact we readers quest for every time we open a book.

Much of the novel exists with only Pi and the tiger (whose name, with an ecstatic sense of rightness, is Richard Parker), but through their interactions, the settings of territory and the solid language of emotion, the two pack more life into several hundred pages than I would have imagined possible. Martel heaps so much love and earnest heart into Pi’s narrative voice that the reader feels locked into this powerful, uneasy friendship of man and beast. Despite the abundance of violence between creatures (some reluctantly inflicted by devout vegetarian Pi), what struck me in the end was that I’ve rarely read such emotional and breathtaking writing about animals. The tremors of a ship rat clinging to safety in fear; the quiet, noble pain of the injured zebra; the gently quizzical nature of a contented meerkat; each comes to exotic life through Martel’s prose, which is fearless in its imaginative daring.

By the end of the book the reader is given a crossroads of belief, an opportunity to take a path obscured by the bramble of imagination, or one that offers the clarity of practicality. As the unforgettable narrator wisely observes, “Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love.” So it is with getting lost in a good story.

Life of Pi was my July pick for the TBR Pile Challenge, and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve kept myself distanced from the book and it’s film adaptation (something I hope to remedy soon) so I wouldn’t have much to influence the experience. When I finished reading I went to its Goodreads page and browsed other reviews – it never fails to amaze me when I see such a wild fluctuation from two- to five-star reviews. Just further proof of the subjective nature of books!

Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Genre: literary fiction, magical realism
Publisher: Mariner Books (Knopf, original)
Release date: May 1, 2003 (September 2001, original)
Source: personal collection
Buy the book:
Amazon/Kindle | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
More on the author:
Facebook | Goodreads

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Hey there, readers, and happy Monday. Our last week of July (what-the-what?!) kicks off with new and anticipated fiction from Amy Bloom, Daisy Goodwin, and Jennifer Niven. Then in mystery Liane Moriarty is back, and there’s work from Carrie La Seur and Lee Child. In sci-fi/fantasy there are lots of series additions, from Jean Johnson to Ilona Andrews and more. Romance has new work from Victoria Dahl, Katharine Ashe, and Sherryl Woods, to name a few. In young adult there’s new work from Adi Alsaid and Lisa Schroeder, plus a mature YA from Monica Murphy. In new adult L.A. Fiore continues the Beautifully Damaged series and Kylie Scott has a new Stage Dive novel. Meanwhile in nonfiction, memoirs from Susan Blumberg-Kason and Matthew Gilbert, plus Chimamanda Adichie’s phenomenal We Should All Be Feminists speech (in my opinion, one of the most vital lectures of our time) is available in ebook format. Last, as ever, are the new-to-paperbacks: Hilary Reyl, Tasha Alexander, Louise Penny, and much more. Enjoy!

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Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford

by Casee Marie on July 24, 2014 · 0 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

With her latest novel, Cavendon Hall, Barbara Taylor Bradford welcomes readers into a new series chronicling the lives and loves within an English country estate. It’s 1913 and Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, finds his family unraveling in the wake of a tragic attack on his innocent teenage daughter, Lady Daphne. As he and his wife attempt to stop the spread of rumors and vigilantly guard Daphne’s broken spirit, the Inghams know that the only family they can surely put their trust in is the Swanns, a service family whose ancestors have sworn an oath to the Inghams for centuries. Life at Cavendon Hall has only begun to spiral out of control as Charles’s cousin Hugo returns, a successful and charismatic businessman who in his youth was banished from Cavendon to America under mysterious circumstances. While the threat of war looms over the lives of both the Inghams upstairs and the Swanns downstairs, secrets will be revealed, lines will be crossed, and love will be both rekindled and found anew.

With Cavendon Hall, Barbara Taylor Bradford does a commendable job of building her own unique story from the history of Edwardian manor houses and the relationships between the nobility and their servants, a time and topic that’s been sensationalized by the Downton Abbey phenomenon. When an author deals with the basic material and, essentially, the very formula of a big mainstream franchise – in this case, the upstairs-downstairs relationships and the impact of World War I on the lifestyles of both nobility and servants – it can become precarious territory, with the story being just a step or two away from feeling like a rendition rather than an independent work. Cavendon Hall holds its own, however, perhaps in part because Bradford conceived the story years before Downton ever made its premiere. The Inghams and the Swanns are all original, interesting characters and their stories keep the reader on edge with curiosity. As Downton enthusiasts will know, along with a highly active English manor come a big family and a full working staff: a complex cast, to say the least. The pages of the novel are chock-full of new faces for the reader to keep track of. I enjoyed making a project out of getting to know the characters, making family trees for the Inghams and the Swanns as I went along. One of the things that really separated Cavendon Hall‘s setting from that of Downton Abbey for me was that the Swann family was presented at a higher level than servants in the house. Given a rich history of involvement with the Inghams and Cavendon, the Swanns are afforded a special place as confidantes and even defendants of the Inghams, and as a result the interactions between the characters allow the reader to witness something more personal than the servant-master relationships that are more typically explored in these sorts of stories.

The story of the first Cavendon novel covers a lot of ground, focusing most largely on Lady Daphne –just one of the earl’s six children – as she overcomes a dark tragedy, and as we follow her life through several years across the whole of the war we also observe some of the relationships between other members of house and staff: whether the friendship between another Ingham daughter, DeLacy, and young Cecily Swann, or the special connection shared between Charles Ingham and the Swann family matriarch, Charlotte. When the Ingham family’s long lost cousin Hugo returns to the country, he brings with him the power to either save or ruin a family already on the brink. The resulting drama unfolds at an easy pace, with plenty of surprises in store. I think the one thing that would have really made Canvendon Hall shine for me was if Bradford had allowed her writing to flow more creatively throughout the narrative. With so much to juggle – character development, historical detail, and a multi-plot story – there gets to be little room for artistry in the writing. Occasionally some scenes in the novel play out with less feeling as a result, and for some readers that can invite a bit of detachment. I would love to see the series continue with more emotion woven into the prose; but where the novel may have lacked some poetic flair for me, it made up for it in the uniqueness of the characters and the intricacy of their relationships. I was constantly intrigued by everyone at Cavendon Hall, curious about what the future would reveal and how the different characters would handle their own struggles. On the whole, Cavendon Hall is an interesting start to a new series and its engaging story lays the groundwork for plenty of post-war social intrigue.

Title: Cavendon Hall
Author: Barbara Taylor Bradford
Genre: historical fiction, romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release date: April 1, 2014
Source: Get Red PR (C/O)
Buy the book:
Amazon/Kindle | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
More on the author:
Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Alright, friends, here’s another peek at what’s new in the world of books. This week Danielle Steel is back in fiction, as are Lisa Turner, Emily Arsenault, and David Rosenfelt in mystery. In sci-fi/fantasy there’s new work from Jennifer Estep and M.D. Waters, among others. Meanwhile in romance Nina Levine, Tawna Fenske, and Renee Bernard all have series additions. In young adult there are series premieres from Erica O’Rourke and Laurie Faria Stolarz, among others, plus a new standalone from Kelly Fiore and a new addition to the Something Strange and Deadly series from Susan Dennard. In new adult Lili St. Germain, Alyssa Rose, and Cheryl McIntyre all have series additions. And in nonfiction Piers Dudgeon explores the life of beloved Irish authoress Maeve Binchy while Miles J. Unger writes about Michelangeo. Last, as ever, are some of the titles newly in paperback, including Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story and the first in Charles Cumming’s Amelia Levene series. Happy reading, bookworms!

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