19 November 2008

Reading: Life of Pi

I'm currently reading Yann Martel's Life of Pi, which is interesting, coming off Jane Austen and thinking about literary novels and how they differ from mainstream and genre novels, and about things like beginning in media res and using conflict etc, things this book doesn't do. 

I'm at page 60 and so far the story hasn't started. I mean I've read the blurb on the backcover -- which tells me I'm expecting my main character to be in a boat sometime soon, but so far he's not. So far we've had his ruminations on zoos and on religions and various other things such as his name (a very humorous chapter), and I'm learning a lot about the main character, but nothing is happening. Nothing. I'm not seeing his interactions with other characters. There's little dialogue -- and mostly what it is is remembered dialogue presented through his ruminations. (And my one complaint is that I would expect a zookeeper's son to know that a platypus is not the only egg-laying mammal -- let us not also forget the echidna! But of course Aussies are likely to be more in touch with our monotremes than most other people.)

I suppose that's the thing about literary novels. If the writing is good enough, a book can hold your interest even if it flouts the cardinal rules about conflict. The bottom line, or perhaps the first rule of writing fiction, is to be interesting. So is this book interesting? Yes, to a point. (And, after all, it's a Booker Prize winner.) But if something doesn't happen soon, I may be putting it down and picking up something else. Other literary novels are able to combine story with beautiful writing -- take books like fellow Booker Prize winners Possession (AS Byatt) and The bone people (Kerri Hulme) -- in both of these I've been caught up in the story well before page 60.

Some of the reviews of Pi talk about the wonderful storytelling -- great! I'm looking forward to experiencing it. If I last that far... And truth be known, I probably will. There are very few books I'll abandon. And often I'll do this in the first few pages, in a rage at purple prose, or because the beginning absolutely positively hasn't hooked me and doesn't show any promise of hooking me. So, 60 pages in is a good sign, I guess! 

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