three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
15-Mar-Apr-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-FactsHelsinkiThis collection, originally published in Martel’s native Canada in 1993, speaks of life, death, redemption, memory, and illusion. In the title story, a young man slowly dies of AIDS as his mentor devises a story of the Roccamatio family of Helsinki, whose lives parallel key political events of the 20th century. The next story features a Canadian student whose life changes irrevocably when he hears music written in commemoration of a Vietnam vet. The third story imagines, in differing accounts, the last moments of an executed prisoner—which version will the prison guard relate to the prisoner’s mother? In the final story, antique mirror-making machines record and reflect memories, suggesting that life is nothing but a cerebral construct.
Harcourt. 208 pages. $22. ISBN: 0151010900

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"With uncommon dexterity, Martel manages to inject real, poignant feeling into cleverly conceived experimental fictions." Jennifer Reese

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Each of these stories is a performance, a high-wire act in which the author sets himself an unusual challenge and dazzles us as he pulls it off." Steven Moore

Chicago Sun-Times 3 of 5 Stars
"If you are fond of theories such as deconstructionism and reader response, you will enjoy The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, for the multiple plots and many possible interpretations of its stories will allow you to deconstruct and rearrange to your heart’s content. … However, these four tales alone are unlikely candidates for praise or fame of any sort, to say nothing of literary canonization."
Ron Sheasby

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Magic realism, postmodernism, Philip Pullman, Harry Potter, all have primed us to find a looking-glass machine—or a tiger on a life raft [from Life of Pi]—entirely delightful. Martel is simply a better teller of tall long stories than tall short ones."
Sophie Harrison

People Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"Like a precocious student who can’t help showing off, Martel loads this short-fiction collection—written a decade before his Booker Prize-winning bestseller Life of Pi—with literary pyrotechnics." Ellen Shapiro

Critical Summary

Martel’s Booker-Prize winning Life of Pi ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002) merged fact with fiction, reality with fantastical constructs as an Indian boy navigated the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. This collection, written a decade before Life of Pi and spruced up for an American audience, shares the novel’s imaginative plotting, deep humanity, and narrative finesse. But—except, perhaps, for the deeply affecting title story—it’s not a masterpiece. A few reviewers criticized Martel for his literary conceits and lack of conviction in his own stories. Simply put, they had a harder time suspending disbelief in these shorter pieces. Still, if you enjoyed Life of Pi, you’ll appreciate this dazzling, if somewhat disorienting, collection.