I struggle with fables and parables.
With few exceptions, I find them invariably clumsy. They try too hard. If they hold the line on subtlety, they end up being obscure to the point of unintelligible. And if they maintain coherence and remain comprehensible, then they suffer from being so heavy-handed as to be trite or clichéd; or so direct as to be laughably simplistic.
Fables can't win for losing in my book.Pi's
GR description calls it "fablelike." So, what -- it falls short of being a full-fledged fable? It fails at fabling? What does it succeed at then? 'Coz if you remove the symbolism that Martel uses to make it into a parable (and that's what I'm going to settle on--it seems to have a definite religious lesson to teach us), it doesn't succeed at being much of a story.
Symbolism, metaphor, simile ... yes, these are good. These are the herbs and spices essential to concoct a delicious story. A good metaphor--even a sustained one--is used judiciously by a writer to add flavour, but never overwhelms the dish. An apt simile is like the garnish on the side of the plate--an aesthetically pleasing finishing touch. (If you're Tom Robbins, you can get away with making similes your appetizers, veg and dessert courses, but no one else can.)
Let these guys take over, and you've got a fable on your hands. Or maybe a parable. And that's even more unwieldy than having a tiger in your lifeboat.
If this one hadn't been so hyped, winning the Man Booker and all, I might have liked it marginally better. But as it was, I'm putting it in my contrarian views pile--good for you if you got it and liked it, but for me, I'll take Not Wanted On The Voyage
any day. I have no idea what that one meant either, but at least it was clever, funny, whimsical and heart-breaking all at once. Now, there's a fable that could hold water.