Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Book Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

5 stars

Those who want a gritty and thought-provoking story, and can take a slow start.

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.


My English teacher from sixth form recommended me this book. I didn’t read it. I wanted to. I was, erm, going to after I finished my coursework... It was next on my list... Well, now I’ve seen the film the book will feel slow. I saw it in a charity shop and finally stopped making excuses.

I’m mentioning this because if I hadn’t been so motivated to finally finish it, I might have stopped 50 pages in. I’m glad I kept reading, but I do sympathise with 50-pages-in me. Not often a book will manage to hook in and bore at the same time, but that’s exactly how I felt in part 1. If I had met Pi in real life, I’d listened to his stories endlessly but I might have piped up with ‘When do we get to the part with the boat?’ a couple of times. After finishing the book, I finally appreciated more of the musings at the start but that’s not much good when you’re actually reading it.

As soon as the front cover came into play, I was reluctant to put the book down. Martel certainly has that 'storyteller' quality. His prose is rich with metaphor, interesting facts and musings, and character development that spun a bizarre tale into a believable account.

This book is not for the fainthearted and some bits set off my haemaphobia. Vivid is an understatement. I saw the film first, and this was more vivid than the lifelike replay. You have to commend Martel’s way with words for that!

The animal psychology sections appealed to me a lot. As a psychology graduate, I always love to see a bit of psych in action, especially when the author knows what they’re talking about. So many authors will mention brain regions, social psychology titbits, or, as I recently read, ‘olfactory nerves’ without knowing more than a skim-read wiki article on the topic, but Martel knows his stuff. He knows his animals. He knows them so well, I felt like Pi must really exist because who other than a zookeeper's son would know so much about animals and animal psychology?

The ending is designed to make you think, and that’s exactly what I did for hours after putting it down. If you’ve read it and are wondering which way I sway, I’ve decided to believe in the tiger up to the bit with the blind man. I’m glad we’ll never know because I can keep thinking and wondering without any restraints.

I learned a lot from this book. I learned that green sea is shallower than blue, and you can paralyze a fish by poking its eyes. I learned that a tiger won’t attack if you stare at it, and the psychology behind how lion taming. Most importantly, I learned I wouldn’t survive in the unlikely event that I end up stranded in the sea with not much other than a Bengal Tiger...

Source: Bought from a charity shop.