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Unspeakably, bafflingly poor
on 27 July 2011
I rarely review books, confining myself to classical music but as soon as I'd finished this I felt compelled to register my vote. Like many a previous reader and reviewer, the only reason I a) bought this book, b) persevered with reading it was because I had read, taught, studied and admired "Life of Pi". I have never encountered such a dour, pointless, tedious farrago of nonsensical ideas in my life; the novel is all the more incomprehensible for being written by such a talented author. A previous reviewer has it right by characterising the book as 95% boring and 5% shocking; the grinding, right-on relevance of the message is appreciable only "retrospectively" after you have been repulsed and shocked by the moments of graphic brutality, hideous cruelty and gratuitous violence. Yes; of course I know that is what typified the Holocaust and that evil is inevitably banal compared with the transcendence of goodness - but the reiteration of wickedness and banality does not a work of art - or indeed a tolerable novel - make.
Even worse is the author's ultimate insistence on hitting you over the head with the "message". Rather than being content with providing an intelligent reader with subtle clues, towards the end Martel elaborates a literal, clodhopping explanation of how to decode the novel. We get it, OK? The earnestness with which he does so just about negates any appreciation I might have had for his craft.
Certain critics and pseuds are falling over themselves to hail this as a profound masterpiece; I can only suggest that you obtain a copy - for heaven's sake don't waste money on it as I did - and read for yourself if you suspect me of poor judgement, prejudice or ignorance. I assure you I wanted to like the book, having been so impressed by "Pi". Try, by all means - but don't say I didn't warn you.