Life & Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee

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Michael K is a perfect nobody, and even though he’s spent his life shut in and shuffled between institutions of one kind or another, it’s still as if he didn’t even exist.

The novel is about how Michael K gradually disengages himself from everything that’s institutional, moves away from the world and puts a distance between himself and reality with which – he claims – he has nothing in common.

First he quits his job, and then he quits the city in order to fulfill the last wish of his ailing mother and take her back to her idolized rural birthplace, and then, after the death of his mother, he slowly quits his own institutional self, too – he loses his documents, and partly intentionally, partly incidentally loosens then tears forever the few ties that tied him to society – that made him real in society’s eyes.

Everyone in the novel tends to think that Michal K has a screw loose, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his mental faculties. His passivity, silence, and dumb acceptance of every wrong done to him is just the surface.

Is he really passive? He isn’t. If he makes up his mind to get his mother away from the city, he does it. If he wants to achieve something, he takes action.

Is he really silent? He isn’t. He speaks when he has something to say. He speaks when the thoughts he harbors inside are expressible. And he knows perfectly well that there’s so much that’s impossible to express – and then he doesn’t even try to express those things.

Does he really dumbly accept everything? He doesn’t. If he’s fed up with the way he’s treated somewhere by someone, he ups and disappears.

The oft-mentioned Kafkaesque quality and the references to Kafka’s works are quite obvious but not particularly intriguing to me. I’m not sure if there’s a hidden importance to the fact that the protagonist is called K and that he’s moved around at the whims of others in an absurd, cruel, and bureaucratic nightmare of a world, or to the fact that a mysterious Castle is mentioned here once or twice. Sure – the significance of these details is that they make the novel Kafkaesque, but I’m not convinced whether they signify something else besides this.

There are other parallels here, though, which are more interesting and rewarding for me. First, Michael K’s simplemindedness (not in the sense of feeble-mindedness but in the sense that he is really only concerned with a simple thing: living on and from the earth, as the most natural thing in the world, freely, without leaving a single track after himself) reminds me of Thoreau’s Walden. Michael K wants so little. So little to give and so little to take. His simplicity, his lack of needs is un-human, humanless – it doesn’t allow for deep human bonds – after all, what kind of bond would be possible with someone who doesn’t want anything? And because of this, I was also often reminded of Camus’ The Stranger. Michael K seems to feel a little more deeply towards his mother than Meursault, still – the relationship tying him to his mother feels like an artificial bond, an institution forced upon him by the world, and life’s burden feels lighter after the mother is gone.

And ultimately all this is awfully unsettling – I always end up feeling terrible when I read such distant-sounding, impersonal, unapproachable, reclusive novels. Of course the way I feel is a judgment not about the quality of the novel, but about its effect. And Coetzee sure can write deeply unhinging novels.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

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I’m usually interested in novels that won the Booker Prize, but not always, and based on its description, I wasn’t too interested in this novel. Then I saw a physical copy of it in a book shop, and I was mesmerized by its cover. Isn’t this a beautiful cover? I think it is, so I bought the book and read it.

And I have mixed feelings. The oft-quoted phrase from reviews that this is a devastatingly beautiful novel is mostly true. And besides beauty, it contains a lot of brutality, humanity and inhumanity, lots of coincidences, and a fair amount of pondering about sin, guilt, fate, historical and personal traumas, and whether there are real choices in life, and if so – whether there are good choices.

Partly – this is a very strong novel. The author’s personal stake in the events he describes is heart-breakingly obvious (Richard Flanagan’s father was a prisoner of war during World War II, and he worked on the Burma Railway), and it’s also painfully obvious that Flanagan deeply understands how war traumas shape the lives of both the people who undergo those traumas, and the lives of the next generations. And all this is grave and unsettling, and I think that – just like out of everything else – it is possible to create literature out of it. One thing I’m not sure about, though, is whether it’s necessary to shove all the trauma and brutality into my face so extremely hard. More on this later, but now a little bit about the story.

The main character is Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor getting ready to serve his country in World War II. While he’s getting prepared for war, he hastily engages a woman – with whom marriage would be more than advantageous socially – and parallel to this, he embarks on a mad, desperate, burning affair with a married woman – an affair that’s condemned to death from its first moment, an affair that will shape Dorrigo’s life forever after because – in hindsight – it turns out to be the one single real thing in his life – that short period when things actually meant something.

I don’t intend to spoil anything here – the novel isn’t entirely linear, and it contains a lot of flashbacks and foreshadowings, so we learn it quite early on that society, conventions, and war can seriously hinder even the world’s most beautiful romance. (I don’t have the necessary sensitivity to write about this in more beautiful words – Flanagan does a much better job here than I do.)

The hopeless but life-changing affair is then pushed into the background besides the main theme of the novel. Dorrigo becomes a POW in the war, and together with thousands of other Australian and other POWs, he’s moved to the hell of the jungle where POWs are forced to work on the Burma Railway. Dorrigo is – let’s say – fortunate: he served as a doctor in the war, and he serves as a doctor even as a POW. He’s an observer, and his job mainly consists of trying to alleviate all the suffering, sickness, and brutality that is the daily lot of all the POWs building the railroad.

The majority of the novel is about this: the description of the experiences of the POWs, the ever-increasing horror with the end nowhere in sight – that horror which slowly grinds up everyone both mentally and physically. And then there’s a key scene in the novel, which strongly reminds me of a similar scene in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22: that scene where – after countless foreshadowings – it turns out that one of the characters, who was shot on the thigh and complains about freezing to death, in fact sustains another wound, too – and even though the shot in his thigh might not be fatal, that other wound will surely be. Something similar happens here – something unbelievably brutal, something unavoidable, something irreparable, something against which you cannot fight – something that cannot be stopped once it has started. It is extremely harrowing. And it is – perhaps – a turning point. Or rather: it’s a point from where it’s not possible to make things any more intense.

And yes, the war suddenly comes to an end, and everyone returns to his life: some go back home as heroes, some as soldiers of a defeated empire, and some face prosecution as war criminals. The only certainty is that the war left a mark on everyone – and Flanagan looks at these marks, too. I like the basic idea here, and I’m certainly affected by the way Flanagan examines the minds of different Korean, Japanese, and Australian survivors, and the way he analyzes (tries to analyze) what different persons (the so-called good and the so-called bad) felt during the war, what motivated them, what kept them alive, and how they could act exactly the way they acted. The conclusion here, if I’m not mistaken, is that everyone’s a victim in a war – but I’m not sure if this isn’t a bit of relativism here. And yes, I admit that the text affects me, but it still comes across as a bit over-explained, and I’m not that fond of having big lessons pushed into my face in such a fashion.

And now back to the too-thick laying of brutality I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The part of the novel set in the POW camp is brutal, shocking and painful beyond belief. And page after page, things get worse. Each day there’s more hunger, more beatings, more sickness, more work, more inhuman daily quotas. And after a while I start to wonder: Can this be made even worse? Is it necessary to make it even worse? Because sure, it’s all right that things happened this way in reality (it’s obviously not all right – but you know what I mean), but things in literature shouldn’t be the way they are just because they happened that way in reality. They should be the way they are because they couldn’t be any other way. And even while reading this novel, I often felt that it would have been better to leave some things unsaid.

And the more time passes, the more I feel this. This could have been a better novel that way.

Last Orders by Graham Swift

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Umberto Eco mentions in his notes to The Name of the Rose that the first 100 pages of the novel is deliberately difficult and hard to approach. He says that he uses these pages to test his readers, so that only those will be able to reach the monastery – where all the excitement begins – who are insistent and curious enough. He builds a mountain of his text which needs to be climbed in the same way as his characters need to climb the real mountain on top of which the monastery lies. Umberto Eco and Graham Swift do not have too much in common, still, Swift’s novel reminded me of this Eco-style mountain-climbing.

In Last Orders, Graham Swift doesn’t deal with intriguing murder mysteries. He deals with people, and people are more mysterious and harder to decipher than the most extraordinary murder case – therefore I wasn’t much disconcerted when I realized that I had to read about a hundred pages of this (300-page) novel before I got some idea about the identity of the characters Swift writes about. Of course I don’t know anything for sure, not even after finishing the book, but when it comes to „real” people (like the ones in this novel) this hardly comes as a surprise.

Last Orders is the story of a single day when four old friends start off on a journey, in order to execute the last will of their friend, the recently deceased butcher, Jack Dodds, and throw his ashes into the sea. The four friends are Vic, an undertaker; Ray, an office clerk who’s also a horse-racing maniac; Lenny, a guy who wanted to become a professional boxer but ended up being a greengrocer; and Vincey, a used-car dealer, Jack’s adopted son. These four men, and Jack’s wife, Amy take turns telling the story. And while the men are on their way from London to Margate (the place designated by Jack for the scattering of his ashes), they all get into a nostalgic mood, and through their memories we slowly learn how they are related to each other and to their deceased friend, and we also get to know the most important details of the lives they have lived.

Of course I could mention dozens of nostalgic books, and hundreds of life-stories told in flashbacks – but Last Orders is far above the average nostalgic-flashback novel. One reason for this is that it’s amazingly truthful and it lacks any kind of melodrama or histrionics: the common lives of these common characters don’t appear more beautiful and exciting in hindsight, but at the same time, Swift doesn’t shock or crush you with unimaginably horrible tragedies, either. In this novel both the good and the bad are bearable, common and perhaps inevitable: illnesses; faithful and unfaithful marriages; some nights out with friends; some success in business or a lucky bet on a race-horse; love, family dramas and compromises – all of these are only „big” for the one who actually lives through them. And Graham Swift writes about these themes in such a way that he simultaneously shows their ordinariness and their most extraordinary uniqueness – since these are the most important, most special events in someone’s (anyone’s) life.

Besides this, the language use and humor of the novel are also remarkable. It’s a real pleasure to read the informal, not too sophisticated, but very expressive and emotional words of the characters. Swift sticks to the common in his language as well: his average characters don’t speak BBC English, but they don’t talk like the heroes of a slum novel either. They simply talk as an average Cockney speaker would, and I happen to like this kind of linguistic authenticity. And as regards the humor: Swift’s humor is beautifully under-toned, absurd, slightly bizarre and slightly dark, but basically it’s a sympathetic and empathic kind of humor. The novel’s humor (and its plot) reminds me a bit of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and of Beryl Bainbridge’s The Bottle Factory Outing.

Last Orders is a good novel. It’s beautiful, uplifting, and the end is truly cathartic (and mind you, I don’t tend to use this word very often).

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The protagonist and narrator of the novel is Veronica Hegarty, one of the several children of the Hegarty clan. The story starts off with Veronica’s brother, Liam committing suicide. After the death of Liam, the family – whose remaining members now live scattered all over the world – needs to be brought together for the wake. The responsibility falls to Veronica since she was the closest to Liam. So she informs their mother about Liam’s death, travels to England to organize the transportation of Liam’s body and deal with all the paperwork, in one word, she arranges everything that needs to be arranged, so that in the end, every family member can properly mourn for Liam in their old home, and then everybody can go home and get on with their lives. Everybody except Veronica, who cannot deal with the tragedy in an easy way.

I won’t go into more details, there’s no need to anyway because the novel doesn’t have a story proper. This novel is about the period when Veronica slowly and more or less sufficiently comes to terms with the fact that her brother is dead and regains her ability to live a more or less normal life again. During these months Veronica falls out of time and the everyday course of events, her whole being is filled up with her loss and all she is able to do is to think about her past and her family, while neglecting her husband and children. She thinks (and talks) about her relationship with her brother; about the history of the Hegarty family, starting from her grandparents’ generation; and about that tumultuous event which happened at their grandparents’ place when she was eight and Liam was nine, and which forever changed the course of Liam’s life.

Besides Veronica’s mourning, the novel is also about the processing and rewriting of the past and about the question whether it’s possible at all to rewrite one’s memories. Just to name a few of the rewriting-revisiting methods: Veronica recalls everything she knows about her family and keeps coming up with alternative family (hi)stories which could easily have been true (e.g. there’s a scene right at the beginning of the book, full of suppressed sexuality, which tells the story of the first meeting of Veronica’s grandparents – then it turns out that in fact the male protagonist of the scene wasn’t Veronica’s grandfather but someone else). Veronica also visits the places which were significant in her life for one reason or the other, and she hopes that by these visits she will be able to recall, relive and then perhaps finally forget certain events of her past. And she also tries to explain why the lives of her family members took certain turns (however, the explanations keep changing: at one point Veronica names a specific event which ruined Liam’s life forever, but later on she says that Liam would have ended up living the same screwed-up life, even if that particular traumatic event had never happened.)

Anne Enright writes about the way memory works, emotions change and thoughts race in one’s head in an authentic (and authentically frustrating) way. Veronica’s thoughts are often conveyed in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, with random associations and ideas piling up on one another, so with some exaggeration I can almost say that in one paragraph we are reading about the organization of Liam’s wake, in the next we are reading about the American boy who used to be Veronica’s lover at the university, and in the next we are reading about the summer when her grandmother took her, Liam and another one of their sisters to the sea. Despite all this, the novel is not impossible to follow – only, it requires more attention than an „average” book. Not only because it’s often not obvious which year we are in and whom we are talking about, but also because we can never know for sure about any particular detail whether Veronica is telling the truth or she’s again rewriting and reinterpreting her memories and trying to fictionalize reality.

I assume anyone who read more than two posts on this blog is well aware that I’m deeply interested in the themes this novel is about. And Anne Enright writes about all of them well.

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

This was the second novel I read by J. M. Coetzee. The first, Waiting for the Barbarians put me into a state of intense mental misery for days, however, I didn’t doubt for a minute that I would read other books by Coetzee – not because I’m masochistic, but because I’m curious. At least now I had some ideas about what I can expect from Coetzee, so the story of Disgrace and the themes the novel covers didn’t take me by surprise. I don’t mean that I’ve become immune to the brutality of Coetzee, and I can sit back and watch contentedly how he puts his characters up to difficult, no-win ethical choices. But I certainly tried to read the novel in a cool, distant manner, and avoid empathizing with the characters too much.

I guess this detachment was a good attitude to assume, as without it I would’ve found Disgrace even more unsettling than Waiting for the Barbarians. In that novel perhaps we can fool ourselves with the idea that the world depicted in the novel is not real, however, in Disgrace we don’t have this option, as this novel is set in the all too real contemporary South Africa, and the characters also seem more real than those in Waiting for the Barbarians, who are more like symbols than rounded characters.

Disgrace tells the story of David Lurie, a fiftyish, twice-divorced university professor and womanizer. David abuses his authority as a professor in order to seduce one of his students, young and beautiful Melanie. However, their secret affair is brought to light, and even though David pleads guilty and accepts his responsibility in the issue, he is unwilling the assume the role of a scapegoat, and decides to leave his job instead. He moves in with his daughter, Lucy, a strong woman living alone on a farm, but it seems that no matter how far he goes and where he hides, Lurie cannot find his inner peace anymore.

I read some articles earlier about South Africa, so when I learned that a part of Disgrace is set on a farm managed by a white person, I immediately had some serious forebodings – and I had every reason to be afraid of what might happen in the novel. South African farm attacks are so common that the topic even has its own Wikipedia article, and Lurie and Lucy are also attacked by a violent group. After the attack, their situation in the world becomes increasingly disgraceful, and they are looked upon with distrust, as if they had been the ones to invite the attack.

The novel deals with quite a few intriguing topics, such as the relations of the black and the white in South Africa; the difficulties of creating art; the uselessness of the English language when it comes to depicting South African reality (or simply to communicating efficiently); or the all-permeating feeling of constant mortal danger in which the characters are forced to live. Still, as we may assume from the title, the most important theme of the novel is shame, and its private and public interpretation.

For instance, David privately accepts the disgrace he suffers because of his affair with Melanie, but he does not want to atone for his sin, and chooses to go into exile instead, while the supposedly modern university and his whole town superstitiously wants to turn his private shame into something of a public cleansing ritual. In Lucy’s case, this happens the other way around: even though she is the victim of the farm attack and it isn’t Lucy who commits a shameful act, she is the one whose reputation is shattered and who has to bear the disgrace attached to her victimized condition. However, contrary to her father, Lucy doesn’t back out from her situation and run away, but stays on her farm, and at the end of the novel it seems that she even humiliates herself on purpose and positively relishes in her disgrace.

Coming from me, this might sound a bit too obvious and spoon-feeding, however, the novel is not like that at all. The different characters and themes are beautifully balanced in the novel, and Coetzee refrains from any kind of over-explanation. I assume he knows that the topics he writes about are serious enough on their own, so they are bound to weigh heavily on the readers without the writer engaging in any superfluous artiness or explanations.

I read it somewhere in a review of Waiting for the Barbarians that Coetzee writes in a muchtoobare and non-literary language. This statement definitely holds true for Disgrace as well. I cannot recall encountering any particular adjectives or unique metaphors in this novel – but anyway, I don’t think the novel worse for this. Based on the two novels I read so far by Coetzee, I believe that his strength is the depiction of social and ethical questions in a bare, seemingly simple form, and he is not that good at playful, beautifully written ruminations about lighter topics. (By lighter topics I mean anything which is not a matter of life and death.)

I have a need for both kinds of literature, however, I don’t need Coetzee’s kind as often as the other. Despite all my precautions, his writing unsettles me to a great extent: I find his dark world exceedingly depressing, and it also unnerves me that so far I haven’t encountered a single likeable character in his novels. I don’t need much hope and encouragement, but I definitely need some. I don’t think that everything is hopeless; that every man is a disgusting swine; and that human beings don’t have the slightest chance to make meaningful, humane decisions. Coetzee continuously makes me believe that I’m wrong in these assumptions – and this, I resent.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

I remember reading a very enthusiastic blog post about this novel sometime in the fall of 2009 which made me want to read Possession as soon as possible. However, the shop I used to order English-language books from didn’t have the novel in stock just then, so I ordered another novel by Byatt, A Whistling Woman instead – but don’t ask me about the logic behind this decision. Anyway, I quickly perused that book and the knowledge of the author about literature, politics, society and a dozen other topics present in the novel amazed and frustrated me at once, and probably because of this slightly frustrating quality I didn’t really get to like the novel. I guess this was part of the reason why, when I finally bought Possession, I didn’t feel like reading it immediately. Months passed, I read several other enthusiastic reviews about the novel, my interest was constantly re-kindled, and the idea of Possession was always lurking somewhere in the back of my mind, but when it came to choosing what to read next, I always chose something else. Finally, after one and a half years, last summer I felt that the time had come to read Possession.

And now I feel that I read this novel somewhat too late. Possession is a good, extremely sophisticated and very beautiful novel, but I guess it might have affected me differently if I hadn’t read it so soon after reading Mark Z. Danielewski’s wonderful and elaborate novel, House of Leaves, which became my all-time favorite mind-boggling postmodern novel almost at the moment I started reading it. After that novel, I found it hard to imagine that another book might soon come and affect me in such a way as House of Leaves did and leave me shattered, exhausted and totally fascinated at once. So in retrospect I feel that Possession didn’t really have a chance at all. Still, it was a good book.

Possession tells the story of two young literary scholars, Roland and Maud, who set out to untangle a 19th century literary mystery. Both Roland and Maud have their distinct fields of research: Roland specializes in the life and art of the great Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash, while Maud does research on the talented but obscure Victorian poetess, Christabel LaMotte. There’s no known connection between Ash and LaMotte, but one day Roland discovers a draft of a letter, addressed to an unknown lady.

Roland – usually a reliable and slightly boring young man – secretly starts to dig into the mystery of the letter and he soon finds out that it might have been addressed to Miss LaMotte. Roland – having no other option – then confides in the LaMotte scholar Maud and the two of them set out to find out what kind of relationship might have existed between the two poets a hundred years ago. However, there are other scholars equally interested in LaMotte and Ash, so their quest doesn’t only involve the collection of information – they also have to be careful about their unscrupulous colleagues, who would do just about anything to attain fame and wealth by unraveling such a literary mystery.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? A story of two impractical scholars who spend their time digging in old trunks in dusty attics, researching poets in the library, perusing boring 19th century journals and quirky letters, and reading feminist essay collections when they need a rest. The trick is that Byatt actually makes all this sound quite exciting. It may be the (not too well-hidden) ex-English major student speaking in me, but while reading Possession I felt (not for the first time in my life) that nothing can be a more fascinating and rewarding occupation than to be obsessed about a topic and to spend a whole life studying it.

The quest of Roland and Maud, that is, the frame story is wonderfully gripping throughout the book, however, it took me a long time to become interested in the „real” (?) heroes, Ash and LaMotte. I found this rather strange because in the case of framed narratives, the inner story is usually more interesting than the framing story, however, with Possession, it was the other way round: I was much more interested in the relationship blooming between Maud and Roland, and the way they work together than in the actual results of their quest. I only grew to like the inner story when the first parallels between the Maud–Roland and Christabel–Randolph pairs appeared, and afterwards I could enjoy the poets’ story as well. Still, I sometimes laid the book aside when I saw that the upcoming chapter was again a fifty-page excerpt from a 19th century diary or a long poem, because I found Roland and Maud, their constant self-reflexive ruminations and the fascinating postmodern games in the frame narrative much more intriguing than the actual texts on which the scholars based their quest.

It’s also a highly interesting (though of course not a revolutionary) idea that the novel is about a literary quest, and Possession in itself is a novel which encourages readers to engage in their own quest and find the connections between the pieces of the puzzle – games like this can be hugely enjoyable and they also give us an idea about what literature can be: a beautiful, uplifting but basically useless occupation. Useless in the sense that no one in the world will profit from Maud and Roland finding out that Christabel and Randolph in fact knew each other; and no one will profit from an English major student writing a thesis on, say, the parallels between 19th and 20th century realities in Possession – but I don’t think everything in the world has to be useful. And sometimes I would definitely trade places with Maud and Roland.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

It happens to me quite often that I come across a book at random and it suddenly exerts an irresistible force on me. I don’t think there’s anything miraculous in this, I simply mean that a good title, a nice cover or a chance sentence I happen to read when picking up the book can awaken my interest so much that I feel I cannot live without knowing what’s in between the covers. Now, I don’t really know what exactly kindled my interest in Life of Pi, as usually I’m not particularly into novels featuring animals or overtly religious themes, and I had an idea that Life of Pi was such a novel. In retrospect, I think I was hooked by nothing else but the cover which I liked so much that I did not care about the themes of the novel at all. Anyway, I became interested, and then felt I must buy the novel and read it as soon as possible. This I did.

Let me mention right here that the novel was a bit disappointing for me – though this probably has more to do with my irrationally high expectations than the quality of the book. My final disappointment was all the more bitter as the novel has an exceptionally good start which satisfies all my needs: it features multi-layered narration, jumps between past and present, a lot of delightful philosophy and an immensely likeable protagonist, Pi.

The story starts out with the narrator, a Canadian writer travelling to India in order to make his little money go a long way. There he meets an old man who tells him about the strange story of Pi Patel. When Pi was sixteen years old, he survived a shipwreck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and then he drifted in a lifeboat for 200 days in the company of a huge Bengal tiger and a couple of other animals until he finally arrived at the shores of Mexico. The old man suggests that the writer visit Pi, now a mature man, when he gets back to Canada and ask Pi to share the whole story with him, because this is a story which has the power to turn even the most incredulous person into a believer in God.

The narrator takes the old man’s advice and contacts Pi when back in Canada. Pi agrees to recounting his story to the writer – and from this point, we mostly read Pi’s own narration, except in a couple of short chapters where the writer shares his impressions about Pi and his family with the reader.

In the first part of the novel, we jump to and fro between present-day Canada and the India of 25 years ago, and we learn about Pi’s childhood and the origins of his unique relationship to animals and religions. Pi’s father happens to be the owner of a zoo, so Pi has the chance from his early childhood to learn how to live together with animals and how to respect the ways of animals. Apart from animals, religion is the other important driving force in Pi’s life. Though he comes from a Hindu background, as a teenager Pi discovers the beauties of Christianity and the Muslim religion as well, so he becomes a young man with three equally important religions.

This part of the book is entertaining and philosophical at the same time, and I truly enjoyed Pi’s ruminations on as diverse topics as the difficulties of running a zoo, the needs of animals, the human mistake of believing animals to be anthropomorphic; the importance of belief, or the idea that man can doubt, but no good comes out of making permanent doubt a life-philosophy.

The thoroughly enjoyable first part of the book ends with Pi’s family deciding to close up the zoo and emigrate to Canada. The second part starts with the sinking of their ship. Pi is the only one to survive the tragedy, and from this moment on, the novel becomes something of a standard castaway story – though one spiced with a couple of dangerous animals, unbelievable difficulties and magical elements. I won’t divulge more details as I don’t want to spoil your pleasure.

Let me just add something regarding the end of the novel. As the story is told in retrospect, we know from the beginning that Pi managed to survive, so I think it comes as no surprise that after several days, Pi ends up in Mexico. And this is here that he first tells the story of his survival to two doubtful Japanese gentlemen – and suddenly everything is (or can be) seen in a different light. If we decide that we want to see things in this new, cruel light. Anyway, as time passes, I’m beginning to feel the end to be more and more tricky and multi-faceted. And I feel that perhaps one day I will want to re-read the novel so that I’ll be to interpret everything in at least two different ways throughout the whole novel, and not only at its end.

As a matter of fact, Life of Pi was a really good read. It was uplifting, tragic, funny, witty and dramatic at the same time, so I definitely don’t regret buying it. The only thing is that I didn’t turn into a believer simply by reading it. Of course, this is not a huge problem for me – all that happened is that now I feel that the novel promised more than it could deliver (to me). And perhaps this failure has more to do with me than with the novel itself.