Monday, September 17, 2007

Catching up with Yann Martel, Part 2

Imagine how delighted I was to find that the Sept. 3 Martel pick for our P.M. is Jane Austen's The Watsons. Finally, a book I've already read! And very recently as well; see my earlier review.

I've been working away at his list and am reading classics I should have read eons ago! I've just finished Voltaire's Candide. (translated from the French) This is something I've always been meaning to read and it is so short I wonder why I've been procrastinating. I really enjoyed it -- I didn't expect it to be so funny. Candide travels the world as a 'candid' observer, one who does not have set ideas through which to filter his experiences. He travels with others who try to explain everything through their thought systems , especially by the eternal optimism of the tutor Pangloss. I don't know enough philosophy to be able to identify all the references made to various ideas, but even without a philosophical background the story is an amusing spoof of chivalric romances. Candide and his companions travel the world, having terrible things happen everywhere. Even when they finally reach El Dorado they are not satisfied and end up leaving to return to Europe where their riches and sweethearts await. The King of El Dorado tells them, "when one is reasonably content in a place, one ought to stay there", but they leave anyhow. That quote and the most famous last line, "we must cultivate our garden" are ones I've copied out to think about.

I've also finished Garcia Marquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold (translated from Spanish) and I read it in the same edition with the odd purple cover that Martel mentions in his letter to Stephen Harper. This is a journalistic novel; it's a look at a murder which happened years before, and the narrator is going back to try to unravel its causes. The narrator is implicated in the events, as it occurred in his own small town and the main players were all friends of his. Memories are suspect, recollections vague, and nobody is taking any responsibility for how it happened or how they might have stepped in to stop it but didn't. According to what I've read, the 'chronicle' (fictional reportage) is an established genre in Latin American fiction, and this is an example of that questioning of the veracity of eyewitness accounts. There is some uncertainty as to whether the murdered man was actually guilty of the crime he was accused of; I felt that the narrator could have been equally guilty himself. I liked the possibilities that implied. I was impressed at the beginning but felt that the story slowed down and finally just trailed to a conclusion. I can't help but admire the style; his writing is so masterful. However, this was (for me) a slight story, of some interest but not an immediate reread.
Now just two more reads before I'm caught up to the voracious book suggester Yann Martel...


  1. Martel does pick interesting books, doesn't he? It's interesting that he would go for an unfinished Austen instead of one of the finished novels.

  2. Dorothy - I'm thinking it was the length of "The Watsons" which convinced him... as he says he will give short books. I keep thinking I should email him with my suggestions for him to then suggest (then they'd be books I've read.....)

  3. I'm impressed that you enjoyed Candide-the only part of it I liked was the El Dorado bit. Did your version have the creepy cartoons?

  4. Eva - I just found it so bizarrely, darkly funny. And, no, I missed out on the creepy cartoons!

  5. I read Candide for the first time in February. It was one of those books I always intended to read, but that I'd never actually gotten around to reading. Having recently read a biography of Voltaire in January (Voltaire Almighty) made Candide more interesting.


Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!