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A fishy taleLife of PiYann MartelCanongate 1299 pp330About a third of the way through this novel you find yourself being asked to believe in the following scenario a 16-year-old Indian boy named Pi short for Piscine - dont ask has been cast overboard from a sinking ship The ship had a cargo of zoo animals and the boy finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena a zebra which the hyena is eating alive an orang-utan and a Bengal tiger hiding under a tarpaulin They are drifting thousands of miles from land and there are sharks circling the boat The orang-utan is looking distinctly seasick the boy is trying to work out an effective way of catching flying fish while he dwells on the chances of his avoiding the zebras fateIn recent weeks in the literary pages there have been reports of the death of magic realism that catch-all genre of Eighties exoticism spawned by the loose global grouping of Mrquez and Rushdie and Calvino On the evidence of Yann Martels second novel it would seem that these reports have been greatly exaggeratedHaving just about convinced his reader of the possibility of Pi being on the boat itself Martel a Canadian then endeavours to sustain his fantastical survival story for 300-odd pages The real trick of this book is that he almost succeedsThe story is given all the apparatus of a yarn It begins with an authorial note about the difficulties of writing second books when the first has sunk with barely a ripple The writer narrator travels to Tamil Nadu dreaming of a tea plantation on which to write his great Portuguese dont ask novel but the book goes nowhere and he mails it to a mythical address in Siberia Casting around for ideas he is directed towards an Indian man who lives in Canada and whose life it is suggested is something close to being the greatest story ever told All the narrator
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