Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Monday, 13 June 2011

Is life stranger than fiction?

Well, when 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel was first published in 2001 and won the Mann Booker Prize the following year, I was busy having babies and juggling this with my working life - but I noted it from the corner of my eye and tagged it mentally as 'a book to read' when I had time. And although I have read a good many books since 2001, I hadn't actually got round to reading this one.

Until last week, that is.

About a month ago, I was bemoaning my lack of literature and spent a harrowing few nights onboard - and overboard - a tiny boat with the Robinson family as they struggled to survive the sinking of their bigger boat, 'Lucette' whilst crossing the Pacific Ocean. It exhausted me, haunted me and gave me several sleepless nights so when I finished it, I logged on to 'The Book Depository' to purchase some more suitable bedtime reading material. And one of the books I chose was 'Life of Pi'. The other was Neil Gunn's 'The Well at the World's End', which I really enjoyed but which also contained, most unexpectedly, several pages where the protagonist's life hung very much in the balance and I feared a tragic end - and I confess to being rather disturbed by this.

So it was with a little sense of relief that I turned at last to Pi. Now if I'd stopped longer to consider the blurb, I might have been forewarned as, guess what, Pi gets shipwrecked in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! How could I have missed the similarity?

Well, I was fooled by the tiger and the word 'fantasy' which I had noticed on the blurb!

Despite this, I can say I sort of enjoyed the book;  I liked the narrator, I was engaged by the plot - but once Pi was shipwrecked, I began to get feelings of deja-vu! Here was a poor stranded soul sucking on fish eyes, slurping the blood from turtles and drinking rubbery rain water through a tube; a desperate creature suffering from sea-boils and parched skin and stinking breath. And putting out sea-anchors and fishing with gaffs - though at least I didn't need to search what these terms meant this time.

I'm sure it wasn't plagarism - I'm sure that pretty much everyone who has been shipwrecked in the Pacific will have eaten flying fish, dorados, turtles and just about anything else possible to stay alive - though interestingly, I discovered that another author, Moacyr Scliar, claimed that Martel had stolen the idea of being stuck in a boat with a dangerous big cat.  Nothing went any further between the two. Martel did say he'd never read the other's book. However, he does make a passing reference to the book I had read - saying that 'The Robertson family survived 38 days at sea... I survived 227' - so he had read it, clearly any author writing about being shipwrecked on the Pacific would read it - research, right?

And my point here in this post is not whether Martel was assuming that most people would not have read the story of the Robertson's, so it wouldn't really matter how much he borrowed from them to provide a reality to his story - but that here am I, in the south of Spain, reading English literature, and I find myself reading two such totally opposite works - one, an mind-blowingly awful true story and the other, a work of fantasy and imagination - within a few weeks of each other.

And I understand Martel very well indeed. Though I am no author, the story of the Robertsons has eaten away into my subconscious and I am sure that if I were 'casting' around for an idea for a novel, something of this would surely 'swim' into focus.And if you haven't read 'Life of Pi', it too is a harrowing story - a story too awful to be told in fact.

Seems an impossible coincidence - but there you are!

I'm now looking for suggestions for light and pleasant reading - PLEASE!!


  1. Hello:
    One is of course, from what you write here, left wondering from where an author's ideas originate and how much she/he is influenced by the work of others? Certainly what is encountered in every day life must go some way in part to becoming the basis of the next novel.

    Two modern writers of fiction you may care to look at are Helen Dunmore and Patrick Gale, both of whom we much enjoy. And do you read William Boyd? And then there are people like Mary Wesley, Elizabeth Taylor and Anita Brookner. Oh dear, when to stop?

  2. My current reading is one of Alexander McCall Smith's No 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels and as always I'm enjoying it enormously. Botswana is landlocked, so no shipwrecks here, just a very affectionate portrait of a country and a nation. I sense a blog post coming.... :-)

  3. Hello and thank you for your recommendations - some are familiar - Helen Dunmore, Mary Wesley and Anita Brookner - others I still need to have a go at.
    I do like the idea of a landlocked option, Perpetua!!
    Or maybe I ought to grasp the language nettle and just try something in Spanish...

  4. You knew I'd have to come here didn't you? ;-)

    How did I miss this first time around? I think I probably just wasn't paying attention. If I'd taken the time to write a longer review of 'Life of Pi' on my blog I think I'd have made many similar points (maybe subconsciously plagiarising you!?!?) I too found it a bit disturbing. All of that eating of guts didn't help either.

    Not read many Spanish authors (and certainly not in Spanish) - Cervantes? Yes, quite like Don Quixote. Struggling otherwise.

    Andy x


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