Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

In Life of Pi, Martel continues the recent trend (seen in The Dutch Wife and Everything is Illuminated) of a first-person narrator presented as the author, reporting a second narrator’s first-person narrative of an altogether exotic story. In all three cases, this narrative device is deployed essentially to make the reader feel, through most of the book, completely at ease and secure, only to create complete distrust by the final chapters.
Life of Pi is a Homeric epic, a quest story that doesn’t actually go anywhere, geographically, for the better part of the story. Pi, a teenager from India en route to Canada with his family and the remnants of the family zoo, is shipwrecked somewhere in the Pacific, and spends 227 days adrift in a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. He tells his story from the perspective of the survivor, as an adult living in Canada thirty years later.
The Homeric elements are subtle but solid – there’s a deceptively lush, inviting island (inhabited by aquatic meerkats, no less), blindness, storms at sea, the odd albatross, and, of course, the fact that the hero renames himself ‘Pi’ – a Greek letter and an ambiguous number, reminiscent of Odysseus telling the Cyclops that he is called no-man.
Martel makes Pi a Universalist, who believes and practices Hindu, Catholic and Muslim rituals, before, during and after his ordeal at sea. Of course, the only thing Pi really worships as a castaway is the tiger, whom he credits for giving him the will to live. This is not in the cuddly, we-befriended-each-other-to-survive sense, but in the I-will-survive-in-spite-of-the-man-eating-tiger sense. (Maybe the tiger is the .14 to the 3 religions) I was left with the impression that the religious beliefs were merely exercises in aesthetics, while the tiger was the real source of soul-level faith. Richard Parker is a real god, awful in both senses, fearsome and remote – and when Pi hits rock bottom, blind from malnutrition and waiting for death, the tiger speaks to him, as in a religious vision brought on by starvation.
Life of Pi is well-written – beautifully written, even. It made me laugh aloud in places and shudder in others. Martel has mastered the art of symbolism, making it obvious enough that you recognize the symbols at work, but subtle enough that you don’t feel you’re being whacked about the head with the 2×4 of exposition.
I recommend it without hesitation.

An Evening At Eve’s Tavern

Just for Laughs Festival, July 18, 2003
Last year, my mum, sister and aunt did a girls’ day – lunch, shopping, An Evening at Eve’s Tavern, and supper. This year, we decided we loved that day so much we’d make it a tradition. We invited Kate and her mum along, partly to celebrate Kate’s recent (as in, same day!) move to Montreal.
My participation in the afternoon elements of the itinerary was curtailed because a certain tiny person chose to make an unscheduled appearance.
I met up with the girls at my place, where we had a nice cuppa and a quick catch-up before cramming ourselves circus-clown-style into Kathryn’s car and heading downtown. We arrived at the Spectrum to find a bit of a line-up, but were soon enough inside, and found a great table upstairs.
This year’s host, Aisha Tyler, is gorgeous but had a lot to live up to, given that last year’s host was Jann Arden, perhaps not as tall and slim, but definitely funnier and with better delivery. Tyler was the weakest element in an otherwise great show – of the three shows I took in the year, Eve’s was better than Bubbling with Laughter but not as good as the gala.
The first act was Sheryl Underwood, whom I’ve seen before, but who was more than a little raunchier this time – her other festival appearances this year included the Nasty Show, so I guess she was in that frame of mind. We were a little concerned that she was a sign of things to come for the rest of the evening, but thankfully, the rest of the comics were a lot less crass. Not that Underwood was unfunny – she had some great lines about being a black Republican: “there are eight of us. One of the perks is that we get flown in to any party event. Of course we have to move around the floor constantly so it looks like there are more of us…”
Michele Balan: “I realized why we gain weight as we get older. I think to myself, ‘wow, I’m horny – wait, there’s a cookie. That’s easier.”
Judy Gold: (for context, gay, New Yorker, has 2 kids with her partner, 1st was carried by her partner, 2nd by her): “Our kids are going to be completely screwed up – two Jewish mothers.”
“My partner had our first child, by caesarian, because everything has to be dramatic… when the baby was 6 days old, we went out for a walk. I had the baby in the carrier, and my partner was holding on to walls to keep from collapsing. At the counter in the coffee shop, a woman asked me how old the baby was. I said ‘six days,’ and the woman said ‘wow, you look amazing!’ I said ‘thank you…’
Carla Collins: “I bought a vibrator at Ikea. I can’t get it assembled. I’m using the Allen key. It’s a little small.”
Maria Bamford: “Children in America, according to statistics, are more depressed than ever before. The sippy cup is half empty.”
Wendy Liebman (who closed the show and brought down the house):
• “My brother is in gradual school… he’s studying philosophy… he doesn’t know why.”
• “I took a year off to have a baby… … it didn’t work.”
• “I married a man with a 5-year old… mentality.”
• “His proposal was so romantic… he turned off the TV… well, he muted the TV… during a commercial…”
• “He does have kids, which is great, because now I have a second chance… to fail algebra.”
• “Now I understand my mother better. She always said that a mother has to be willing to give things up… like the will to live.”
• “Canada is great. The American health system is awful. My doctor charges me for a breast self-exam. It’s a flat fee.”
• “I can do an 18-hour bra in 15 minutes.”
• “I can’t drive and drive. I nearly had an accident with a house – it was on a trailer… it was headed right for me… I flashed my headlights and honked, but there was no one home… so I drove into the garage.”

Tina Fey ROCKS

Last night’s gala, the fourth of five at the 21st anniversary Just for Laughs festival, was perhaps the best gala I can remember seeing. Since 1998, when I worked at JFL, we’ve gone to at least one gala per festival. Starting last year, my sister, mother and aunt have done An Evening at Eve’s Tavern as well. This year, I also saw one of the Bubbling with Laughter shows, which was the least impressive of the three shows I took in.
Just for Laughs Gaga featuring Tina Fey
Saturday, July 19, 2003
The gala started with Bobby Badfingers, a reprise from an earlier gala. Granted, great finger snapping, but once you’ve seen him do ‘Wipe Out,’ you’re pretty much good. So the extra two numbers, complete with forced audience participation, was a little on the lame side.
The gala really started with the predictable ‘Live from the St-Denis Theatre…’ and the smart, funny, gorgeous Tina Fey ensconced behind the Weekend Update desk. Her update was almost entirely Canadian – including a shot at the latest census data in which thousands listed their religion as ‘Jedi’: “although the data on religion has to be disregarded, Stats Can is happy because they now have a count of Canadian dorks.” Also, she brought up the fact that it’s now legal for Canadian doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana: “and in related news, actor Woody Harrelson has applied to med school at McGill.”
After what she referred to as her “9,999th” Anna Nicole Smith joke, Fey said she was about more than trashing celebrities, and broke into ‘Let me Entertain You.’ Great singer, great dancer, and the best part? After all these years of wondering what news anchors are like from the waist down… Fey emerged from behind the desk in fishnets, a leotard, and fake fat legs and butt. As soon as the pic is available, you’ll see what I mean.
The first comic was Suli McCullough, whose best bit was letting us in on the fact that the guy inside Barney is black: “think about it – he’s 6’8” and dances, he wears a purple fur coat with green trim, and his girl’s name is Baby Bop. He’s Tyrone-asaurus Rex.”
Next up was Dave Coulier, who was the least annoying cast member of Full House. His act consists primarily of impersonations of cartoon characters, including Bullwinkle, Scooby Doo and Shaggy. These voices are dead-on, and very funny. He did get in a couple of good actual jokes, including “I’m so excited to be here. I wrote an act this morning and everything. Some of these are time-released jokes. You’ll get them in the car on the way home.”
Colin Quinn, an SNL alum and former Weekend Update anchor, was next, and came across as relatively funny but mainly drunk. Best bit? “To be an intellectual in the US these days all you have to do is say ‘yeah, but there’s a lot of stuff the government isn’t telling you.’ Right, like they’re telling you?”
My personal favourite of the night was Lee Mack, a Brit who was introduced as “adding another notch to his Commonwealth bedpost.” His act included a couple of great physical bits, which are obviously less funny when recounted textually (but the Riverdance from the waist up bit is something you can visualize). Best bit? Can’t decide – could be “I remember my Nan’s last words. She said to me, “what are you doing with that hammer?” Or it could be “I am being blamed for the death of the Queen Mum. I got home, turned on the TV, and the announcer said ‘if you’ve just turned on your television, the Queen Mother has died.’”
The last act before intermission was Tina Fey’s brief introduction to American culture (prefaced by a great bit about a conversation she had with a fellow-New Yorker about how sad it is that Americans know so much about Canada, but Canadians have no concept of American culture). Her presentation began with a map showing the “4 states – California, New York, Chicago and Hillbillyville.” She covered freedom of speech, gay marriage (as long as it’s to a person of the opposite sex) and freedom of religion – “Christian, Jew, or constantly under surveillance.”
1st act after intermission was Otis Lee Crenshaw (aka Rich Hall), a convicted felon from the “Darwinian rewind button, Tennessee.” Best bit – “Shania Twain? ‘That don’t impress me much.’ Shania, you’re Canadian. Anything impresses you. Maple syrup impresses you. ‘So you’re a rocket scientist. That don’t impress me much.’ How can you not be impressed by a rocket scientist?”
I overheard a lot of people say their favourite was Mitch Fatel, who was really good (but I still prefer Lee Mack). Some of his best: “I like small breasts. They have personality. It’s like they’re saying ‘Hello! Can I help you?’ No thanks, just looking.” And, regarding women who say ‘I usually wait six months before sleeping with a guy’: “how does that work? Do you e-mail me or something?”
Next up was Barry Julien, the only local on the bill. It wasn’t his best set ever, but he didn’t altogether bomb, I guess. Nothing really worth repeating, though.
We had a surprise guest next, when Tina Fey came on a one half of the country duo ‘The Staley Sisters.’ Other half – Rachel Dratch of SNL. The premise is that these sisters tour, singing their dead daddy’s inspirational songs, including ‘She was hangin’ laundry:’
She was hanging laundry one fine day
When her shoe she bent to tie…
Old grey cooch, old grey cooch, I saw Gramma’s old grey cooch that day…
The last comic of the night was Louis CK, whose best bit was on the guy with the sign that says “Honk if you love America.” “Sure, I love my country, but no guy with a Magic Marker is going to tell me what to do. Makes me want to walk up to him with a sign that says ‘Lick my ball if you love Jesus.’”
The show ended with a great a capella group called Naturally Seven. They were fabulous – rock solid despite a couple of technical glitches.
All around, a great show.

Reports of my death have been grossly exaggerated

I am still alive, really.
I’ve been engrossed in other things, and sadly neglecting my blog. My apologies. As I said to one blogette who complained about the lack of posts, I really didn’t know I had an audience. Aside from stalwarts Bill & Becca, comments are few and far between. I assumed the chirping crickets meant I was writing into a void. Apparently I was wrong, and teeming hordes of readers are breathlessly awaiting my next bon mot. No pressure, of course.
Anyway, in an effort to prove that I really do care, I’ve added a page of educational resources. Go there. It’s good for you, like bran flakes, but without the rush to the loo.
Well, you ask (apparently), what have I been doing with myself? – catching up on backissues of the Times Literary Supplement – stripping paint off of every painted surface in the house (or so it seems) – researching texts for my upcoming Lit courses – laundry – researching refurbished laptops – learning code (yes, I’ve gone to the dark side) – reading, reading, reading
I just finished Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer, which came with many recommendations. I now officially add my recommendation to the list.
The book is funny, sad, tragic, well-written… definitely worth the time. Part of the appeal for me is that Zoer doesn’t hit you over the head with too much exposition – and he’s paced it so that you suddenly realize where everything is headed and think to yourself “Oh my God, I was laughing at that?!?”
Other recent reads:
Black Bird, by Michel Basilieres
This is a must-read for Montrealers. Basilieres takes extraordinary liberties with Montreal history, but taps into our municipal psyche rather well. Nationalists may find the book a little offensive, but no one on either side of the debate walks away unscathed. The family at the center of the action is the DeSouche clan, half French, half English, all nuts in their own special ways. The setting is downtown Montreal, just before the October Crisis. There are some extremely funny moments, and some even more extremely disturbing ones. There’s an anglo doctor creating his very own Frankenstein, using Brother Andre’s heart, no less. There’s a crow (hence the title) who plucks out the patriarch’s eye. And above all there are myriad references that make a Montrealer all warm and fuzzy.
Lots and lots of P.D. James
I think I’m addicted.
Currently on the nightstand:
How to Read Literature Like a Professor
If I’m gonna be one…
How to Be a Villain
courtesy of Dina and Steve. Muahahaha.
Life of Pi

I got immense Satisfaction last night at the Stones concert. Of course, every concert I attend invokes the fantasy that some one on stage (in this case, Jagger) will look up into the stands, see me, and stop everything until I agree to come up on stage to sing and dance with him. Alas, this fantasy continues to be unfulfilled.
I sent the following as e-mail to CHOM this morning – Terry quoted me extensively, so at least my radio fantasy is partially fulfilled:
I just wanted to address the idea that the Stones are “old” or “past their prime” – this is not some pathetic come-back group playing to a half-filled house at Café campus. This is a vibrant, energetic group that still has what it takes to sell out the Bell Centre. The Stones are still writing, and God knows they’re still selling.
I think that the idea that they (and The Who, McCartney, and so on) are “old” is based on the idea that rockers are supposed to be angry young men from nowhere – but isn’t that because when rock really made it as a genre, that’s what the Stones et al were?
These guys started it – rock has only been with us since the ‘50s. It’s taken us 40 years to reach a point where there can be “old” rock stars. The Stones and their “contemporaries” from the 60s and 70s are still around because they have the talent, the perseverance and the following to keep going. They set the precedent 40 years ago, and they’re still breaking new ground, if only by being as old as my Dad and still kicking butt.
If they can still fill every seat in the arena, then I say more power to them! I could go on and on (for example, did people tell the elderly Picasso to stop painting, dammit, he was too old?) but for now I’ll stop there.

What a summer

Okay, aside from the being unemployed part…
Andrew and I went to the Supertramp concert at the Molson Centre last night. It was a great show! For years I’ve heard Montreal DJs talk about how our hip, with-it city was the first place to really embrace Supertramp, and for years I’ve thought this was essentially patting ourselves on the back. But John Helliwell made a point of saying how much the group loves Montreal, and how over the years we’ve always been a great place to play, and that we really were the first place to “get” their music.
What an incredibly talented group! Helliwell plays three different saxes, as well as an assortment of wind instruments, Rick Davies is, as always, an amazing pianist, and Mark Hart, who has replaced Roger Hodgson, is a good singer, great keyboardist, and fantastic songwriter. Bob Siebenberg, the original drummer, is still banging away – and now his son, Jesse, is also doing percussion. Imagine growing up surrounded by these guys, and then, while your childhood friends are starting their careers in business or whatever, you go into the family business of being a rock musician!
Earlier this summer we saw Santana, and in January we’re off to see the Stones. And I thought I was born too late to see these bands!
Nonetheless, the highlight of my summer has to be:
Two weekends ago, while staying at the family cottage in Long Sault, near Cornwall, Ontario, I stopped in at the LCBO (Ontario’s version of the SAQ, colloquially known as the beer store). I picked up a couple of imported beers for Andrew and a pack of four El Quila. Got to the cash, and the cashier asked me for I.D.!!!! I got carded! I guess I can put off the face lift for a couple of years.
As a friend said, after that, who needs the booze?