Bored? Stressed? At a loss for intellectual stimulation? Well, looks like you need to take a look at a book, my friend. Whether you’re a literary prodigy or a novice at novels, stop by my column to see what to read and what to skip over. Keep on squirming, bookworms!
The Belly of Paris
by Emile Zola
There is something mildly daunting about embarking upon a translation, particularly one written by a master of his mother tongue like Zola. Nonetheless, the journey into the minefield of English-French translation is more than worth the trip when it comes to this absorbing novel, which perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of eighteenth century Paris.
Telling the story of an escaped convict seeking refuge with his brother, the story breaks off to explore what it was to live amongst the working class of France. A mainly sensory novel, it delves into the details of those who lived amongst the market place, drawing the reader into their tangled web of social politics. It is an impressive novel even solely based on its sheer scope – despite the large number of characters, each is as three dimensional as the people I find myself seated next to in lectures.
If you’re a nerd for stirring food imagery, trust me – your hunger will be satiated. The decadence of chocolate, the sinew of meat, the pungency of thick, gooey cheese on chewy brown bread… It’s so well described that you’ll find yourself needing a snack while you read.
With a gripping story, memorable characters, and an exquisite verbal style, this book manages to feed your soul while you feed your grumbling tummy.
Rating: 3 and a half stars
The Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Like myself, you might have been one of the many who saw the Oscar-winning film about a boy and his feline friend. Again, like yours truly, you might have been seduced by the extraordinary visual effects and the exotic sensuality of the cinematic story. If so, you may be following in my footsteps, being tempted to turn to the book for another hit of aesthetic triumph.
I have one word for you. Don’t.
Don’t get me wrong. The adventure of a boy’s Indian childhood, followed by his exile on a lifeboat with the sole company of a Bengali tiger is certainly worthy of the accolades it has received. My point is simply that while the story may have made for a pleasant film, it was far from a pleasant book. Rife with graphic imagery of starvation, physical degradation, brutality, and viscera, the narrative is anything but a light holiday read.
That being said, the novel should not be discredited as anything less than a triumph of fiction. It explores complex themes of religion and human nature, and although it is not “fun” to read, it remains an important spiritual text. Just perhaps try to avoid reading it before dinnertime – you may lose your appetite.
‘Life of Pi’ is not recommended for those experiencing eating disorders or suicidal ideation. If you are struggling with thoughts of self harm, please call lifeline on 131114.
Rating: Two and a half stars.