Saturday, 25 August 2007

Cannibalism in the Atlantic

Someone recently told me that I seem to have had a bit of a lurid part in the 'Life of Pi', a Man Booker (2001) prize-winning novel by a Canadian, Yann Martel.

[Bits of] synopsis:
"While on a ship when his family leaves politically oppressed Pondicherry for Canada, the Japanese ship Tsimtsum mysteriously sinks into the ocean (most likely due to an engine malfunction).

Everyone, including Pi's family, is lost at sea and Pi is the only survivor of the fatal accident.
He manages to survive due to being tossed into the lifeboat before the ship went under, and is joined by a zebra who jumps into the boat and breaks its leg due to the impact.

Pi then mistakenly helps a dangerous 450-pound Bengali tiger by the name of Richard Parker, only to realize his mistake after the tiger is on board. There are other animals on the boat with Pi, including a hyena, orangutan, various insects and other pestilence. At first Pi believes that Richard Parker the tiger has abandoned the boat, and focuses on surviving the hyena. It is not long before the hyena begins to feed on the zebra. After the zebra's death, the hyena kills the orangutan, prompting Pi to approach it, lest he be next. It is then that he notices that Richard Parker has been resting under a tarpaulin and has been aboard the lifeboat the entire time".
Life of Pi Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

It must be one of the best bits of pretentious creative- lit books I've never read. You can write 'magical realism' if you're Gabriel García Márquez, with a genuine backgound of very real, and sometimes horrifying experience, to which you can add some magic or prestidigitation.

But you shouldn't be able to gain credit for merely creating a boatload of creatures that you can manipulate to do what you want.

Thinking idly, I've just invited a magical realist character, for my next Great Novel, based very heavily on on an old tale, of Candide, by Voltaire.

My prize-winning novel will have, as central character, a completely artificial man, made of wood by a very sympathetic old grandfather/ancestor figure.

He'll have no idea of Self or Ego, but will be helped by a sidekick and amanuensis, a hopping insect.

The names ¨Pinocchio¨and "Jiminy Cricket" came immediately to mind and I don't know quite why. Can somebody help?

However, that's not the only lifeboat story I seem to have been involved in:

In 1837, Edgar Allan Poe wrote The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This book tells of four shipwrecked men who, after many days' privation, drew lots to decide who should be killed and eaten. The cabin boy drew the short straw. His fictional name was Richard Parker.

On 25 July 1884, a real cabin boy on a lifeboat from the Mignonette, sunk by a hurricane in the South Atlantic, was killed and eaten by the other three remaining crew members.The diners were each sentenced to six months hard labour and later emigrated.

Their meal's real name was Richard Parker.

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