Answering the never-before-pondered question of whether man can survive on a life boat in the middle of the ocean with nothing but a tiger for company, Yan Martel’s Life of Pi, is undoubtedly unique.
However, far from being an exuberantly invented castaway story, Life of Pi despite the absurdity of its premise, is focused on much deeper questions. The book is in effect a meditation on divinity, with Pi, the narrator, using his story to plead the affirmative case. Although this only becomes apparent during the novel’s latter stages, the groundwork is laid meticulously during the early chapters, in which the narrator outlines the merits of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, all three of which he claims to practice. The religion-focused chapters are punctuated with several explanations of how to keep animals, information that it proves itself conveniently relevant as the story progresses. This makes for a long set-up that in its early stages, especially with respect to the religion-based chapters, leaves one uncertain as to where everything is leading. Arguably the book’s greatest triumph is its navigation of these early stages with crisp measured, prose that remains purposeful and never feels self-indulgent. Penned by an inferior writer, Life of Pi’s opening could be described as one long backstory dump, but Martel makes this part of the book promise rather than perturb.
The telling of a farfetched story in manner that oozes realism and the narrator’s pointed delivery of his closing argument in the denouement, well and truly delivers on this early, if ambiguous, promise.
Rating: 4/5 A bizarre story, superbly written with plenty of meaning beyond the surface.