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How many of us walk the life of Pi in one way or another?
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Member Name: pmcds
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Advantages: Powerful, really makes you think, great story once it gets going
Disadvantages: Drags for the first part
I recently wrote a review of a film that really moved me. I believe I started it by explaining that, every now and then, along comes a film that really makes you stop and think. Well, on a recommendation by my wife, I have just finished reading 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel. I can now honestly say that, every now and then, along comes a book that really makes you stop and think!
The book was the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2002, but I have never really been one for reading books just because they have won an award. As with most things, I believe that literature is down to personal taste as much as anything else. Yes, it needs a captivating writing style and a decent story to entice most people, but within those parameters, there is so much variety, and this is where the personal taste element comes in.
Life of Pi nearly had my personal taste going 'No, thank you very much!' and I firmly believe that without its introduction from Martel, I probably would have struggled to find a reason to continue at one point. It starts off with him introduces the most extraordinary tale by describing his writer's block and how he meets up with a man by the name of Piscine Molitar Patel, whilst struggling for material. Piscine (or Pi, for short) tells Martel the most fabulous life story, which our author puts down on paper. The story, it is rumoured, will defy you to not believe in God!
After quite a rousing intro, the book then descends into its first part: that of Pi's life up to the age of 16. While some of these parts are interesting, there is extensive waffle when it comes to describing a youth of living in a zoo (his dad was the zoo owner) and entertaining a multitude of religions simultaneously. These 90 pages or so do drag at times, and I felt the will to skim read growing ever stronger as this description of youth continued.
However, the second part of the story then begins, and it truly is a well written and fascinating account of a most bizarre adventure. As the 16 year old Pi Patel is making the sea crossing from his native India to set up a new life in Canada with his parents and brother, disaster strikes! The ship sinks, leaving him on a lifeboat with a motley crew of zoo animals for company. A male zebra with a broken leg is his first companion, but he soon finds himself sharing the 25 foot long boat with a male hyena (uh-oh!), a female orangutang named Orange Juice, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal Tiger (double uh-oh!)
Reading the back of the book gives you this information already, so my description up until now hasn't really given anything away. Furthermore, we already know he survives as it is him telling us the story at the start. So, what exactly is there in terms of something to look forward to? Well, imagine if you will a biography or an autobiography, and imagine the best ones you have read, and how the stories contained within it are just so interesting that it makes the whole experience enjoyable and riveting. Can you picture it? That is how Life of Pi pans out. It is a limited story in terms of its setting, being on a lifeboat, but the interaction between the characters and the sheer tale of survival and defying the odds is marvellous indeed.
And so on to the bit where it defies you to believe in God. It is through prayer that Pi keeps going, and his belief and how he forms routines through this medium are what makes the story so rousing, and makes you more determined to appreciate what you have. Yann Martel has written this story in the narrative, as if it is told from the perspective of Pi himself, and there seems to be a certain element of truth in some of the narrative, making me think that Martel has actually put a lot of himself into this, and no doubt there are parts which relate to his own thoughts. No doubt the majority of us will never know, but part of the magic I the unknown elements of it, in my opinion.
The writing is very smooth and familiar. Martel certainly knows how to string them together to make a story fascinating, and the delivery of shorter and blunter sentences mixes well with the long and flowing descriptive that the book is based upon. The interaction between the characters and how the animals aboard the boat are given very human characteristics from the point of view of Pi's analysis of them, makes it all the more believable and also means that I found it easier to visualise the whole thing and even associate with the small group.
And, as with many good books, the final part provides us with a little twist, putting seeds of doubt in our minds as to what exactly has happened. It certainly made me flick through the pages to double check what I had just read, in certain places. It really does give you a bit more food for thought once Pi finds land at the other end of his epic survival.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It truly made me lie back and think, on quite a regular basis., and this is due in equal part to the story itself and Martel's ability to transfer it from his imagination onto the paper. Credit must go to him, although there was a brief flirtation with plagiarism when a Brazilian author claimed Martel had stolen the idea from something he had written. However, charges were never brought, and the book remains a highly imaginative and thought-provoking piece of literature. It is readily available from charity shops and online for much less than its retail price of £6.99. I believe we picked it up for a couple of pounds a year or so ago.
As I said at the beginning, every now and then, along comes a book to make you really stop and think. While this is not the first to make me do so, none have made me seriously stop and think about religion and how faith can see you through times of despair, and I suppose that this is the main message being broadcast here - that no matter what the situation, if we have something we can refer or relate or turn to in our time of need, then we will do so, and without shame, fear or trepidation. In our own widely varying ways, we probably all walk the life of Pi, just in different guises. I was cynical about the book before I picked it up and started. Don't worry if the first part drags at times: just trust its direction. Read it.....
Summary: If you're for a book to make you think at the same time as giving you a good tale, this is it!