Should I read… Life of Pi?
|December 13, 2011||Posted by Emma French under should I read...?|
One of those books people talk about incessantly, and everyone feels they should read: Life of Pi. But, unlike the bizarre, ‘serious’ books that people think it sounds good to have read (say… Murakami?), this book by Yann Martel is worthy of ‘superior’ reputation. A captivating book from the very start, Life of Pi follows the life of Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) who, after the boat transporting his family and the contents of their zoo is caught in a storm, survives 227 days in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The story is told from the point of view of Pi as an old man, looking back on his childhood and adolescence. While the main bulk of the novel obviously focuses on his experience at sea, there is more of interest to this character than merely a knack for survival. Pi introduces himself as a boy who just “wanted to love God” – he becomes obsessed with religion at a young age, similar to the way he is obsessed with zoology, confessing that he is a practising Christian, Muslim and Hindu. A thoroughly eccentric and likeable character, you find yourself gripping the book with white knuckles as you find yourself actually caring whether he dies at the hands (paws) of the tiger or not.
Not only is the character interesting, but so is the strange relationship he builds with Richard Parker (the tiger’s bizarre name is explained in the novel). The method by which the two coexist in such a small space, through both starvation and dehydration, was what attracted me to the book when my GCSE literature teacher described it to me. Through a complex process learnt from his father, Pi manages to tame the tiger, providing him with food and water despite them being alone at sea. By Pi becoming the tiger’s source of food and water, the two form a bond which, upon their parting, seems more profound than just a begrudging acknowledge of the tiger’s dependence on him to survive. Of course, the protagonist takes the view of it being God’s providence that has allowed him to survive in such impossible circumstance, but you can come to your own conclusions on that one.
Some would argue that the shipwreck scenario becomes quite monotonous – the fact that two characters are floating alone at sea does not provide much whirlwind excitement, even if one of them is a tiger. Yet I actually found it quite fascinating. However impossible the premise of the book may seem, particularly as Pi survives, Martel makes it quite plausible, explaining how Pi manages to live by fishing and filtering sea water. With such a constricted scene, Martel finds things of interest in the small details. You find yourself engulfed in the same doubts as the narrator: whether he will survive, whether God is helping him to survive, if (and I actually felt scared at the thought of this) he might have to kill Richard Parker to survive. While some might feel that this drags, given that it is the main focal point of the novel, you should be prepared for the moment when you quite honestly just want it to end – and that it exactly how you should feel, as it conveys the frustration and hopelessness the protagonist too must feel.
Another clever thing Martel does is make you question the reliability of Pi’s tale. Personally, being into fantasy books and always a fan of a happy ending, I like the idea of the tiger and boy surviving the ordeal together, but the author does provide you with aspects of Pi’s tale that make you wonder if it is indeed the truth. Upon making land, Pi is presented with a different version of events, one that is entirely plausible and perhaps (given he has just made friends with a 450-pound Bengal tiger) more believable. There are also small encounters in the book which make you wonder if it is entirely real – a strange, almost hallucinatory encounter with another castaway, an impossible, man-eating island. All small things that make you doubt the probability of the tale, but also whether you can actually question it or not. After all, if we’re honest, has anyone ever been in such a situation as to know what would actually happen?
Overall, a book that is undoubtedly realistic, and yet one edged with spiritualistic fantasy that leaves you enraptured. Perfect for reasserting your faith in humanity and loyalty, and also a good boost to your optimism. For, although it is fictional, it is still a thoroughly believable tale of a man overcoming impossible odds through some fantastic stroke of luck and skill.