Yann Martel: Allegorist and Articulate

Dodgy photo of the real life action at BWF

I remember where I was when I heard Princess Di had died and I remember where I was when I read my first sentence of Yann Martel.

I had heard about The Life of Pi on the radio and ordered it from my small country library. The book was published in 2001 so perhaps this was 2002 or 3? All I know is my kids were little and while they searched the children’s section for picture books to take home I read that first sentence.

I gasped. It was one of those first sentence moments.

I was awestruck and spent the next little while telling people about this book with a boy in a lifeboat with a tiger. At the end of the book, I was introspective, like most readers wondering what was the real story.

Some years later I re-read Life of Pi with the Pocket Book Club and later eagerly went to the movies to see Ang Lee’s fabulous film adaption.

In the meantime, I listened to Beatrice and Virgil – twice or maybe three times. There is a scene in where Virgil (the Howler Monkey) describes a pear to Beatrice (the donkey) who has never seen a pear.

I marvel at Martel’s ability to describe an object so ordinary so thoroughly and I felt I was seeing a pear for the first time.

When I saw Martel was visiting the Brisbane Writer’s Festival he was a must see. I listened to The High Mountains of Portugal from Audible. Driving and reading really is possible and wonderful. Again I was enthralled by Martel’s inventiveness, complexity and subtly. I was completely transported to the high mountains of Portugal.

Martel talks as well as he speaks. He is articulate and thoughtful and gives full and long answers. I was struck by his methodical research and planning for each book – and yet they unfold fresh and lively.

When asked ‘the question’ about Life of Pi he said something like – there are things that are real and things that are true. Something can be true without being real. This is the essence of all his books.

Martel also talked Beatrice and Virgil and how he came to tell a story about the Holocaust. Oh course, I am re-listening to the book with new ears and a greater understanding of the book that a New York Times reviewer call perverse.

It is possible I am now an even bigger fan?

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