I have just finished reading The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. When I first started thinking about this post, about 40 pages into the novel, my planned review was very different to what I will write now. I think this sums up my thoughts about this book; it is a veritable head-scratcher and my opinion of it shifts just like the colours of the dying fish Pi describes: ‘It began to flash all kinds of colours in rapid succession. Blue, green, red, gold and violet flickered and shimmered neon-like on its surface as it struggled. I felt like I was beating a rainbow to death.’ (p 185)
I have been picking up The Life of Pi from bookshelves in shops for several years now and each time, I would put it back. Reading the blurb, it just didn’t appeal to me: ‘One boy, one boat, one tiger. After a tragic shipwreck, a solitary lifeboat is left at the mercy of the wild blue waters of the Pacific. The only survivors are a sixteen-year old boy named Pi, a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, an orang-utan – and a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger.’ Reading this, I had assumed the book was magical realism (which I only venture into occasionally and have quite a conflicted relationship with), but now I think allegory sums up The Life of Pi better. The release of the film finally pushed me into buying it as well as the recommendation of a friend.
Like many other readers, I found the first part of the novel very slow. It took me a while to get into it and at one point, I did consider giving up I have to confess. However, my stubbornness asserted itself and I ploughed on. The middle section on the lifeboat was much more engaging. I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say that Martel’s description of the flying fish was wonderful and, having seen a clip of the film, works wonderfully visually. However, the description of the demise of the majority of the animals on board was very distressing. I could barely read about the zebra in particular. Pi is a new addition to a line of illustrious unreliable narrators – a device which always appeals to me as it seems more real than a god-view or the like. The big surprise for me in fact about The Life of Pi, a book I had mentally written off as a fantasy, is how realistic it felt. You could almost smell the whale’s breath as it comes to visit Pi and Richard Parker and feel the salt of the ocean that makes Pi’s skin blister.
I won’t say anymore about the plot because, even though I have mixed feelings about The Life of Pi, if you are looking for a book that will make you think, I would recommend it highly. It is a remarkable book in many ways and one which I will continue to think about long after I have put it on the shelf.