Life of Pi was, for me, a delight throughout. The first portion of the book seems to have garnered criticism in some corners but I found it to be a gentle and drily witty look at the way the world works. It provides the grounding for what follows, including the religious journey the book takes. Bearing in mind that I'm atheistic, I didn't feel like I was being preached to at any point in time. What's important here is that Yann Martel doesn't ram anything down the reader's throats. Pi relates all the events that occur to zoology and / or religion but the reader is always allowed to make their own judgement as well.
The story really picks up post-shipwreck and has some lovely twists and turns along the way. It's a paean to the survival instincts of the human spirit told through a series of increasingly bizarre and imaginative anecdotes. Wonderfully, everything is thrown askew at the end with a marvellous plot twist that leaves the reader considering the book long after they have finished it.
I read through Life of Pi in a little over two days; it was both enthralling and captivating and is that rare thing in modern art and literature - a positive and hopeful comment on the nature of the human being.
on 23 June 2003
Life of Pi stands with Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude as the most surprising and inventive book I have ever read. The description I read of the book said simply that it was the tale of a boy marooned on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific with only a zebra, orangutan, hyena and tiger for company. I was prepared for a fantasy with talking animals who help Pi throughout an adventure until they inevitably wash up on the shore. What I didn't expect it to be was a savagely brutal tale of survival teeming with blood, viscera, fear, despair and the very real teeth and claws of a 450 pound Bengal tiger. What I also didn't expect it to be was a beautiful, moving, heartfelt, loving exploration of loss, determination, belief and spirituality. That it can be both these descriptions at the same time tells you something of the power of this work of art. Life of Pi will be to some people a cracking adventure story, to some a philosophical treatise on the nature of belief and religion and to some a dizzying and confusing mix of the real, the assumed and the fantasy. To me it was quite simply astounding. The realisation of the point the narrator makes to the Japanese investigators at the end made me laugh and cry at the same time and for the first time in ages I felt a tug at my soul towards a higher power. Everyone in the world should read this book and after the last word, close it, take a deep breath and come out changed.
on 14 October 2002
At the time of writing, Life of Pi is on the shortlist for the Booker Prize, and by the time of you reading this, it has either won (hurrah) or lost (hurroo). Because of the three novels I've read from the shortlist, Life of Pi stands head and shoulders above the others for being entirely original, good-natured, sparky (unlike the sluggish, grounded others), and extremely moreish: it took me only two days to navigate its 320 pages. You can put it down but it's such enjoyable fun why would you want to?
The blurb is somewhat misleading, suggesting that Life of Pi is only about the travails of a boy trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger: in fact there are 100 pages before this main event. But the miracle is that even when restricted to one human character and a twenty-odd foot lifeboat, Martel is never boring, and never resorts to childish anthropormism with the animals either: Pi really does have to survive with a 450-pound Bengal tiger, hungry and uncartoonish and nearby.
Speaking of miracles, the narrator's pushy insistence throughout the book that it will "make you believe in God" is the only chunk of the novel I couldn't quite swallow. There's no godliness whatsoever - unless it's moving in mysteriously subtle ways or something and I'm just too much of an atheistic blockhead to see it - unless you count the instances of Pi praising God when something good happens to interrupt the terrible attrition of life on the lifeboat. And frankly who wouldn't hedge their bets a bit in such a situation? In fact, thinking of it, one particularly memorable section of the book - the island, a staggeringly inventive set piece which put me in mind of the land of the mulefa in Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass - indicates, if anything, evolution at work rather than Creation, and the narrator even makes respectful mention of Darwin.
However. This small gripe does nothing to detract from the fact that Life of Pi will have you grinning like a tiger for days. Prize-winner or not, if it doesn't become a classic in the next few years, I'll eat that carton of emergency rations. Well he won't be needing it will he?
on 27 December 2002
The Booker Prize was awarded to this book shortly after I read it.
Despite the sea voyage being, quite rightly, the important part of the book I found myself enjoying the 100 or so pages leading up to it just as much. The self-description of Pi's life in India was wonderful and packed with discoveries for the reader. It actually came as a bit of a disappointment when he got on the ship for Canada.
The book's write-up provided the main appeal for me, especially the assertion that it would make you believe in God. Well, as it turned out that was a bit ambitious, but I did draw great comfort from Pi's acceptance and practice of different faiths.
The secrets for me were the simplicity of the writing and the way I was drawn out of myself to a calmer, less complicated place.
It wasn't a book that I thought back on longingly for days and weeks afterwards, but at the time of reading it I did travel to a special place.
on 22 January 2003
Pi is the nickname of a boy who is as at home with religion as a fish is in the water. The first half of this Booker prize winning novel sets up the story, where Pi converts simultaneously to the 3 main world religions while living in his family's zoo. The second half describes a tale of great suffering, in very unusual circumstances (shipwrecked in a lifeboat, with a tiger, zebra and other animals). Both halves of the book are compelling.
The writing style of "Life of Pi" is very simple and airy. But this style hides the author's cunning. A number of times in the story, the whole reality of what is being described is called into question. And these questions are never really resolved.
Please don't think this is some sort of "heavy" book, which is hard to read. It is as light as air, and as compelling as a breath of the same. But it has a twist that is both light, and heavy and dark. And the real twist is, I am not even sure if it was a twist! Even as I write this review, the implications of the (seeming) twist crawl deeper into me.
Put simply, this is a great read, it is great writing, it is great story-telling, and this writing is making a great, almost moral, point. When a book of such depth is so compulsive to read, then I feel I have had the best of both worlds and am totally satisfied! Or as satisfied as such a finally mysterious book can leave me feeling...
on 24 December 2012
For many years people have told me I MUST read this book. So I thought it was about time I did so before the film comes out. I found the pace of the book rather slow, the switching of topics and discussions of swimming pools and such rather quite odd. In all honesty I did not particularly enjoy this book. As a novel the story is boring with no proper ending and as a great philosophical work I found it rather lacking. I studied philosophy at university and could recommend far better books if one is interested in tackling such concepts as freedom and survival. On the whole I would not recommend this book.
The Indian narrator's father was so enamoured of swimming pools that he named his son Piscine, which unfortunately lent itself to the kind of mispronunciation with which the boy's schoolmates mocked him. So when he moved to his secondary school, he firmly announced that his name was Pi.
Pi's father ran a huge zoo in Pondicherry in the 1970s. The narrator gives a thought-provoking defence of well-run zoos and an attack on the "myth" that animals are "freer" in the wild. His father warns his children against anthropomorphizing animals, and always to remember that, however cuddly they may be as youngsters, they are almost all potential killers or maimers if you approach the adults as if they liked you as much as you liked them. And there are many other words of wisdom about what animals need and what they fear, and how a good zoo keeper will understand that.
From infancy Pi grew up steeped, first in the sounds, sights and smells of Hinduism and then its teaching, one of whose remarkable qualities it is that it there is room in it for all gods of all religions, including Christianity. The adolescent Pi himself, despite his misgivings about how unlike the Christian and the Muslim God is to the gods of Hinduism, recognizes that, in their pure form, these religions, like that of the Hindus, teach Love, and he embraces them all together, worshipping in temple, church and mosque - to the anger of their presiding clerics when they find out, and to the perplexity of his "modern" father.
All this takes up the first quarter of the book - no hint yet of the shipwreck and the lifeboat together with the tiger, which is what the cover of the book and the film suggest the book is really all about.
Pi's father found Mrs Gandhi's rule intolerable, and decided that the family should emigrate to Canada. He would ship the animals across the Pacific with them with a view to selling them on arrival and starting a new life. The Japanese cargo ship goes down in a storm, and only Pi, the tiger, a zebra, an orang-outang and a hyena survive and share a life-boat. The story now for the most part loses its philosophical content and becomes an well-told and long (in my opinion over-long) "adventure" one about survival at sea. The latter three animals don't make it - the details are horrific - and in the end Pi shares the boat with the tiger. The danger that the tiger will make a meal of Pi is slowly transformed into a less terrifying coexistence, partly because Pi really knows a lot about animals. He is also avery practical sixteen-year-old and he learns fast, and is only occasionally lamed by fear or sorrow. At times he briefly reflects philosophically: against the infinite sea and the infinite sky, he reflects that his suffering was finite and insignificant. He survived an astonishing 227 days. When he and the tiger are at the point of death, they are restored to life in a totally surreal episode in which the strains of incredulity under which the story has laboured all the while finally snaps.
Since the story is told in the first person singular, I am not giving away anything when I say that he survived to tell his story to the representatives of the Japanese shipping company. They don't believe his story, which doesn't fit in with anything in their experience; so, after making some philosophical points about rejecting ideas that do not fall within our experience, he tells them another one which they find more credible because - they realize - it substitutes human beings for the animals in the life-boat.
Many of the stimulus questions in the appendix point towards the religious elements of the novel; but I think that after the first promising quarter, that strand was too thin for the adventure to be a kind of parable, and I cannot quite share the enthusiasm with which the book has been received.
on 10 July 2015
I think this book falls into two categories - those who find it a literary delight, are thrilled to bits, and transported to some greater part of the universe, and those who...well...remain untouched. Regrettably I was in the latter.
on 2 February 2012
I don't readily give up on books and despite several temptations to move on to something else, I did persevere to the end. Sadly the final section merely compounded and confirmed my increasing impatience with this book. This last section felt like a creative writing project of a clever 13 year old who is rather too pleased with himself. The clumsy attempts at humour, in particular, are hugely embarassing.
I'd already yawned my way through the 100 pages of the first section's Wikipedia-like studies on zoo-keeping etc; things picked up a little in the central section's moderately involving shipwreck tale, despite its occasional forays into a sort of magical realism by numbers. I had hoped that the reward would be that the final section would pull together and redeem this rather broken-backed attempt at Literature with a capial L. But no - all that came was a childish cop-out with underlying hints of what turn out to be nothing more than cod-philosophy.
By all means read the book and make up your own mind - after all there are many 5 star reviews here, but do bear in mind there also a large number of disappointed reviewers as well.
on 11 January 2010
`The Life of Pi' by Mantal is an exquisite tale about the exploration of different cultures, ideologies and influences, and the effect they have on the protagonist, Pi. This opening of the novel lays down the basis of the storyline, and appears to be mundane, however the tale unfolds to be gripping and thought provoking. As a teenager, Pi has many influences in his life, his mother who encourages discovering new ideas, particularly through literature. He also acquires a vast knowledge of animals, through his father, who is the proprietor of the zoo. The novel draws together many different elements of life, ranging from spiritual to technical elements, particularly as Pi is unable to decide on one religion, following Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Pi's family move to Canada, due to his father disagreeing with the political views of India's Prime Minister and on the voyage, the boat sinks, which results in Pi being shipwrecked for 227 days before recovered. He was shipwrecked with an orang-utan , a zebra, a hyena and a tiger, `Richard Parker'. All of the animals besides Richard Parker are eaten, and Pi tames him. The fast paced nature of the story combined with the poetic style of language makes for a hugely vivid story, allowing the imagination of the readers to be pushed to the limits.
The originality and the powerful component of fantasy suggests why, when Pi recounts his story to those who recovered him much preferred his story with the animals, rather than the version with the exchanging of animals for human characters. It is clear why `The Life of Pi' won the `Mann - Booker Award' as Mantal combines life, death, religion and imagination to create an beautiful tale.