I may not have been crazy about his novel, but I am definitely a fan of Yann Martel, the person. He strikes me as a thoughtful, caring, earnest individual. One who is trying to rescue his artform from cultural oblivion. Saint-Yann the defender facing off against the dragon of multimedia technology. This is the only reasonable explanation I can come up with for choosing the Holocaust as his subject matter. It was not, as he has said in interview after interview, that he wanted to preserve the legacy and lessons of the Holocaust for future generations through new forms of storytelling. Rather, I believe it was to rescue the literary arts (fiction, allegory, theatre, drama, etc.) as relevant forms of storytelling. It's a laudable gesture, if somewhat misguided. I fear that his misfire has backfired badly; we hear people concluding that he was foolhardy to try (probably true) and that hubris played a role (probably true). Also, they are saying that he is not as good a writer as we all thought (maybe true but only because Pi was overhyped, and one reviewer calling him 'not very bright' is just plain wrong) and finally that his novel is proof that the Holocaust should never be touched in fiction and that the literary arts deserve to be marginal. After writing my review of the novel I was left with the desire to sit down to lunch with Yann. Not to ask him about his book exactly, but about the future of the book in the face of new and exciting ways of telling stories, multimedia technology etc. After the fallout, I would ask him how he felt about the possibility that his novel has backfired so badly as to actually discredit the very artform he was trying to save.
Oh, and while were at it, one more on the cultural marginalization of literature.