Book choice for January 2008

The Life of Pi [suggested by Lorraine Southern]

front cover

Some books defy categorisation: Life of Pi, the second novel from Canadian writer Yann Martel, is a case in point: just about the only thing you can say for certain about it is that it is fiercely and admirably unique.  The plot, if that's the right word, concerns the oceanic wanderings of a lost boy, the young and eager Piscine Patel of the title (Pi).  After a colourful and loving upbringing in gorgeously-hued India, the Muslim-Christian-animistic Pi sets off for a fresh start in Canada.  His blissful voyage is rudely interrupted when his boat is scuppered halfway across the Pacific, and he is forced to rough it in a lifeboat with a hyena, a monkey, a whingeing zebra and a tiger called Richard.  That would be bad enough, but from here on things get weirder: the animals start slaughtering each other in a veritable frenzy of allegorical bloodlust, until Richard the tiger and Pi are left alone to wander the wastes of ocean, with plenty of time to ponder their fate, the cruelty of the gods, the best way to handle storms and the various different recipes for oothappam, scrapple and coconut yam kootu.  The denouement is pleasantly neat.  According to the blurb, thirtysomething Yann Martel spent long years in Alaska, India, Mexico, France, Costa Rica, Turkey and Iran, before settling in Canada.  All those cultures and more have been poured into this spicy, vivacious, kinetic and very entertaining fiction.

(Review by Sean Thomas from

About the Author

Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963 of peripatetic Canadian parents.  He grew up in Alaska, British Columbia, Costa Rica, France, Ontario and Mexico, and has continued travelling as an adult, spending time in Iran, Turkey and India.  After studying philosophy at Trent University and while doing various odd jobs - tree planting, dishwashing, working as a security guard - he began to write.  He is the prize-winning author of The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, a collection of short stories, and of Self, a novel, both of them published internationally.  He has been living from his writing since the age of 27.  He divides his time between yoga, writing and volunteering in a palliative care unit.  Yann Martel lives in Montreal.  See also his entry on Wikipedia.


Shortlisted for this month

After last month's discussion on selection methods, we decided to allow the nominated selector to choose whether to bring one, two, or three books to be chosen by the group (or mandated in the case of only one book being selected).  This month, Lorraine elected to bring three books, the other two of which were:

How To Talk To A Widower

How To Talk To A Widower

Doug Parker is a widower.  A beautiful, slim, sad man who is obsessed with mourning his wife and being consumed with grief.  A year after his wife's death in a plane crash, Doug finds himself unwilling to move on.  His job as a magazine writer affords him the sort of solitary lifestyle wherein he doesn't need to even leave his house to go to work.  He can sit at home, drown his sorrows in Jack Daniels, avoid phone calls from his friends and family, and mourn.  Because what else is a 29-year-old widower supposed to do?

Enter Doug's twin sister, Claire.  Claire, notorious for her potty mouth and unwillingness to take no for an answer, is determined that Doug get himself back on the market, the first step of which is to get him laid.  Temporarily moving in with him, Claire sets out to find Doug a companion among the rich, suburban divorcees in his neighborhood.  Along with Claire comes Doug's stepson, Russ.  Since his mother's death, Russ has been getting into more and more trouble at school, smoking pot, and getting tattoos.  Though Doug has semi-washed his hands of the situation (he isn't really Russ's stepfather anymore, is he?), he can't help but feel partially responsible as he watches the boy falling apart.  Together, these three learn to navigate the twists and turns of grief, familial obligation, and moving on.

When the book starts out Doug is one of the saddest, most broken characters I've ever read, but his wit, self-deprecating charm, and fierce love for his wife make him the sort of man who you just want to put back together again.  My heart broke for the shattered remnants of his happiness and, over the course of the novel as I watched him slowly rebuild what he'd lost, I only became more emotionally involved with the story.  The supporting characters, most notably Russ and Claire, are also richly drawn and entertaining in a way that makes me appreciate my own dysfunctional family.

Jonathan Tropper's newest novel isn't just a story about grief, though the undertone is there.  It's not simply a story about loss, though to discredit its place in the story would be a lie.  It's, in the truest sense of the term, a love story.  One that broke my heart and threatens to do so again and again because, though I am not a person who rereads books, I already can't wait until enough time has passed that I can read this story again and get lost in the characters, the emotions, and the sense of utter fulfillment I felt when I finished it.  This book isn't just good, it's spectacular.  It's of a caliber that I would, and will, hand it out as gifts for birthdays and Christmas because it's the type of thing that you just have to pay forward.  I don't give out five-star reviews like candy at Halloween, and I don't gush about books just for the sake of doing it, hopefully after reading this review you'll understand what an exceptional book this was and be tempted to try it for yourself. [review from by K. Hinton]

About the Author

Jonathan Tropper is the author of Everything Changes, The Book of Joe, which was a Booksense selection, and Plan B.  He lives with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children in Westchester, New York, where he teaches writing at Manhattanville College.  How To Talk To A Widower was optioned by Paramount Pictures, and Everything Changes and The Book of Joe are also in development as feature films.

Short bio taken (in its entirety) from Tropper's website which includes an annoying and pointless flash intro.

In The Dark

In The Dark

One night, while closing up the library, Jane Kerry finds an envelope with her name printed on it in bold, dark letters.  Inside the envelope is a fifty-dollar bill and a typed instruction to "look homeward, angel."  Locating the Thomas Wolfe novel upstairs, she looks inside to find one hundred dollars and another note.  She also meets Brace, a patron who had lost track of time, whom she takes with her to the next rendezvous point.

In the Dark is not only about the game, but also about how it affects Jane and her quickly-blossoming relationship with Brace.  As the amount of money doubles each time, Jane becomes more obsessed with following the instructions in order to get to the next payoff, and more willing to do the increasingly strange things that are requested of her.  At one point, about two-thirds in, the events in the story take an extremely disturbing turn really quickly, and things are never the same after.

Although In the Dark is a real roller coaster ride, Laymon does leave us with an unsatisfying conclusion.  However, the book is so freakishly cool that it is easy to forgive him.  I'm not a fast reader, but I finished the majority of the 500 pages in just a few hours, and couldn't go to sleep the next night until I was finished. [abridged review from by Craig Clarke]

About the Author

Richard Laymon was born in Chicago in 1947.  He grew up in California and has a BA in English Literature from Willamette University, Oregon, and an MA from Loyola University, Los Angeles. He has worked as a schoolteacher, a librarian and as a report writer for a law firm.  He now works full time as a writer.

Apart from his novels, he has published more than sixty short stories in magazines such as Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock and Cavalier and in anthologies, including Modern Masters of Horror, The Second Black Lizard Anthology of Crime and Night Visions 7.  His novel Flesh was names Best Horror Novel of 1988 by Science Fiction Chronicle and also shortlisted for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award, as was Funland.

Richard Laymon is the author of more than thirty acclaimed novels, including The Cellar, The Stake, Savage, Quake, Island and Body Rides.

Richard died on February 14, 2001 (and this bio, taken from a fan site, has never been edited to move it into a more appropriate tense). See also his Wikipedia entry.


Previous Months' Book Choices

November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006