Week Two: The Monday Review
Updated: Mar 31, 2019
1. Life of Pi, Yann Martel (Canongate, 2016).
Life of Pi, a novel alive with magic and realism. Both together, and separate. The tone, simultaneously intricate as an epic-essay on survival, life, divinity, religion, pain, resilience, existence and humanness, however, there is an intimacy to the tone. This man-versus-wild-versus-self, in one-hundred chapters, is powerful in its examination of storytelling.
It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.
This quote in Martel's Life of Pi could be interpreted as a metaphor. Human interaction (an encounter) compared to the presence of a compelling, thought-provoking tale (however, far-fetched it may seem). At the beginning of the novel, there is a strong focus on religious-stories, followed by the narrative itself, and an awareness of the fact that Martel's Life of Pi is written in the form of a re-telling.
My greatest wish --- other than salvation --- as to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One I could read again and again, with new eyes and a fresh understanding each time.
The novel equates life with narrative. The loneliness that Pi feels throughout the journey (depicted through his commitment to Richard Parker, Bengal Tiger) reveals a sense of this. In a novel, as is with relationship, there is always newness------a sense of fresh understanding in the face of knowing.
This theme is found in the resolution through the interview with Mr. Tomohiro Okamoto, of the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport. Here, Pi criticizes his interviewers:
You want a story that won't surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won't make you see higher or further or differently.
This is the greatest danger. To have lived alone ---- without the influence of relationship; of love and fear and all vulnerability. For it is in this never-ending narrative that one finds themselves seeing through the far-fetched into the magical reality of life itself.
2. Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Longman).
Heat and Dust connects two narratives-----on in the present, the other from the past-----through a series of diary entries, one set spanning half-a-century to the next. In short summary, Douglas Rivers, the district officer of provincial Satipur, and his bride Oliva move from England to India, simultaneously, an unnamed narrator pieces together the story of her grandfather's first wife. The novel focuses on the romantics of restless, and the relationships elicited; platonic, arduous, scandalous and/or pure. Some critics argue the setting an EM Forster-decorative version of India; a novel with similar interludes of bohemian England and colonist, however, there seems a sense of Ibsen's A Doll's House in that the narrative sets theme and moral-focus above compass.
It is a hard read; perhaps because the characters often seem apathetic and/or oblivious to the consequences evoked by their decisions. The ending reads like a fairy-tale, rushed and nearly-incomplete. It is not a happy-ending. It is an ending, harsh and flat. While this does not necessarily demean the novel's quality, for in that, there can be found many good things: sentences that express feeling and depiction, consistency and easy dialogue (to name a few), it does mirror the the emptiness (lack of conviction/connection) I felt to be Jhabvala's narrator.
3. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury).
I cried. I do not think I will forget this novel.
I remember that I left work, and went to the closest, Asian-inspired eating-house. The walls were fluorescent-pink, and the lights, a soft and sleepy yellow. The counter was wood, and on a raise, there were four spices; each with its own colored rim. Ginger. Rose. Punch-pink. Azure.
Chopstick. Avocado. Half-priced rice. I opened to where I'd left off. There were letters. From before, a collection of homework, coursework: mathematics, philosophy, history. A sister reading back into the past. Each one, with its folded pages and defiance-in-scribble-and-legible-answers, had become more than memorabilia. They were now the token why of a beloved sibling. Her goodbye.
The building closed with the mall, and I cycled home still near tears. It is uncanny, isn't it? The way a narrative can wrap itself around you, tight and forcing so that you start seeing everything around you in relation to its pent and building emotion. It is there, in your family, in your friends, in the ghosting fog. In reflections. Through windows. At the bend in the road where the cars veer left or right.
I read The Blind Assassin completely blind. I knew nothing of it. Not of the plot, nor the structure. Perhaps this is why it was able to shake me. Nothing was expected, and everything, unexpected. And these are not necessarily interchangeable; they stand alone.
The novel is written in three; the memoir of Iris Chase, the pulp-science fiction stories and the moments wherein these meet: the dingy hotel rooms, the scapegoat, a prisoner of privilege. In my opinion, The Blind Assassin is about the relationship between two sisters. A complicated one. Always close, and frightfully real.
The novel also addresses the notion of foreshadowing. It reads:
If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next-----if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions-----you'd be doomed. You'd be a stone. You'd never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You'd never love anyone, ever again. You'd never dare to.
---- Margaret Atwood
And this coincides with Atwood's beautiful portrayal of familial love. You cannot live as a stone. You cannot help but love she (or he) who is as close as blood. There is no choice, or dare. It is deep and compelling, this compassion. This love.
Another powerful aspect to The Blind Assassin is its focus on secrets.
I wonder which is preferable, to walk around all your life swollen up with your own secrets until you burst from the pressure of them, or to have them sucked out of you, every paragraph, every sentence, every word of them, so that at the end you're depleted of all that was once as precious to you as hoarded gold, as close to you as your skin----everything that was of the deepest importance to you, everything that made you cringe and wish to conceal, everything that belonged to you alone----and must spend the rest of your days like an empty sack flapping in the wind, an empty sack branded with a bright fluorescent label so that everyone will know what sort of secrets used to be inside you?
--- Margaret Atwood
A harsh question, but important, perhaps? Do we ask this enough? In writing, in reading, in living----do we consider this?
The Blind Assassin is a heavy read. Moving.