Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Life of Pi is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of years now but after admiring the movie trailer, I bumped it up to the top of my reading pile(s). I prefer to read a novel before heading off to watching it on the big screen – and I am so glad I did.
We meet Pi as a young boy growing up in India, where he lives inside the zoo where his father works. His two passions are animals and religion, the latter being no religion in particular but mostly the places of worship and figures of faith that can be found there. After years of living in the zoo, his parents decide to emigrate to Canada for a better future. The exotic animals are sold to other various collections across the world, placed into crates and hauled on to a boat for shipping. With his parents and brother, Pi boards the boat that promises to whisk them away to a new life.
One night, as they sail the sea, Pi wakes to hear a strange noise. Leaving the rest of his family in their beds, he heads up to the deck to investigate. Soon he realises something is very wrong. The boat is listing to one side and when he tries to return to his family, he’s shocked to see his path is blocked by fast-rising water. Before he knows it he’s struggling to stay afloat in icy cold water but manages to pull himself aboard a life raft; along with a hyena, zebra, orangutan and a stowaway Bengal tiger.
Unaware of the tiger, Pi is most concerned with the unpredictable behaviour of the hyena and as he watches nature’s food chain in action, he knows his time is coming. All he can do is use the skills he learnt at the zoo and attempt to survive on the rations aboard the boat. But when it comes down to sharing such a small space with one of the animal kingdoms most powerful creature, does Pi really stand a chance?
I had been wanting to read Life of Pi for a while before I picked it up but I had two concerns about it that were putting me off. One was religion and the other being the potential anthropomorphising of animals. I was nervous that either the tiger would talk like a human all the way through or that Pi and the tiger would become best friends and live happily ever after. For anyone else who has these concerns, I have four words for you: go buy it now!
Strangely enough, the religious aspects of the novel that had previously made me wary actually became one of my favourite parts of the novel. I should probably explain that I am not religious but believe that everyone has a right to worship as they wish as long as it brings no harm to anyone else. I started reading this novel at the most devastating point of my life so far; as my father entered a hospice and lost his fight with cancer. After many afternoons spent in the hospice, I would return to my parent’s house and read this in bed and I can honestly say that the powerful, yet never overbearing slants on religion, belief, survival and the human spirit were a comforting light after some dark, dark days. One of the characters states that this story will make you believe in God, it didn’t for me as my mind is too filled with science but it definitely moved me and left me thinking far more than any novel has done in a very long time.
I have read a number of reviews that have been disappointed that the sinking of the boat does not occur for quite a while into the novel. I personally enjoyed Pi’s experiences in India (especially the zoo) just as much as the survival story that comes later. This is a literary novel, a Booker Prize winner, so don’t expect it to fly into action in the first few pages. It sets a beautiful background which helps you understand Pi’s mindset as he’s faced with what he thinks is his own death.
As for the ending, I can hardly begin to describe it without completely ruining the twist, all I can say is that it really is superb. Life of Pi was a joy to me and although it will always inadvertently remind me of a terrible time in my life, I will always think of it fondly and it will forever hold a special little place in my heart. Would I feel differently about it if I read it at a different time? I can’t honestly answer that, all I can say is that I am grateful I read it when I did.
Buy Life of Pi by Yann Martel
If you enjoyed this, check out my review for The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel