Life of Pi by Yann Martel

June 20, 2013

life-of-pi Plot summary (from the publisher): ONE BOY, ONE BOAT, ONE TIGER…

After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and best-loved works of fiction in recent years.

Life of Pi was first published in 2001. In 2002 it won the Man Booker Prize and since then has gone on to become the bestselling Man Booker-prize winner of recent years. A story to make you believe the impossible, it is a novel that has captured hearts and minds like no other.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The early descriptions of Pi’s life in Pondicherry, particularly of his schooling, the origin of his nickname, and his family’s zoo, were interesting. By the time the action really got underway, I felt that I knew the protagonist fairly well already.
  • The origin story of Richard Parker’s name was funny, too. At first I thought maybe Richard Parker was a famous person that I’d just never heard of, but the actual story (that he was a hunter who captured the tiger as a cub and the names got mixed up on the ensuing paperwork) was much better.
  • Pi’s struggle for survival in the immediate aftermath of the shipwreck was engrossing. I enjoyed reading about the stores of food he found, the water stills, the survival manual (nice touch) and his attempts at fishing.
  • The end was decent. I’m not saying that the reveal (why not believe the prettier, more interesting story) was especially profound or enlightening; but it worked as an explanation within the world established by the author.

Disliked:

  • The seafaring saga went on far too long. I get that Pi was stranded for 227 days or whatnot, but did the author have to make us suffer for just as long?? So much of that section could have been excised without affecting the overall meaning of the book.
  • I couldn’t really grasp the life boat seating arrangement. It sounded like the thing had to be enormous to accommodate Richard Parker and all the supplies, but my mental image of a lifeboat is quite different (i.e. smaller). As a result, it was sort of distracting whenever the dimensions were mentioned.
  • I thought the focus on Pi’s religious zeal was a bit overboard (no pun intended). I didn’t care to hear how he was so invested in three major religions or how that led to some awkward moments with his parents and spiritual advisers.
  • Although the big, twisty reveal was okay in my eyes, I didn’t care for the way it was presented. The two Japanese representatives of the shipping company were unnecessarily dense and annoying. Martel should have just let Pi keep speaking without the constant interruptions from those flat characters.

Rating:

It’s hard to read a book like Life of Pi objectively, since it has been out for so long and has received so many rave reviews (plus a Hollywood movie to boot). My expectations were unrealistically high going in, as there was simply no way to temper my expectations. As such, it’s not surprising that I found the actual story to be a bit of a letdown. The book wasn’t terrible, but neither was it the uplifting, life-changing experience many reviews said it would be. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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