Written on: 03/03/2004 by melee679 (1 review written)
It's a long time since a book has had such a physical effect on me. A good writer can make the reader shed tears, and I did, on a packed commuter train, thank you Yann Martel, I cried like a baby for Pi. More than that though there were several points where I was almost physically sick. I felt my insides turn. Now that's a pretty damn special kind of writing talent.
This fantastic offering from Canadian writer Yann Martel was the undoubtably deserving winner of the Booker prize last year. That revered of literary honours went to the little known author for this bizarre work. It is so unlike any thing else gracing the 'bestseller' list for a while, beautifully written, walking a fine line between real and imaginary so you can never be sure exactly where the story falls.
When I first heard the outline of the story it seemed like a whimsical children's book. I had images of talking animals and a wishy washy approach to reality. I was wrong, completely, and this book had me gripped from start to finish in throes of emotion and awe.
A brief synopsis is this: Meet Piscine Molitor Patel. A young Indian boy unfortunately named after a swimming pool. His name, and chosen nickname 'Pi' (as in that Stonehenge-y shaped greek letter that holds the key to GCSE maths) aside, there are two strange things about our narrator. Firstly he lives in a zoo, owned and run by his father in the previously French Indian colony of Pondicherry. Secondly he has faith. Lots of it - not one but three deep religious threads run through him. Pi worships Christian, Muslim and Hindu gods without prejudice.
The family decide to emigrate to Canada and set about selling the zoo piece by piece. Many of the animals end up aboard the same Cargo ship with the Molitors bound for the Americas. Only the ship goes down in the middle of the Pacific. Pi finds himself hurled aboard a life boat, with the company of a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and a 450 pound Bengal tiger.
Now I might have told you an uncharacteristically large chunk of plot there. Infact you could glean most of that from the back cover of the book. We know Pi is ship wrecked. We know he survives because the story being told is his through a writer who has stumbled upon the tale by chance.
This sets the scene for a tale of human survival against all odds. Pi narrates for us his time spent aboard the lifeboat. Raw human emotion, the insignificance of one human life against the elements, and the strength of faith told here are breathtaking. The majority of the book floats us across the pacific with Pi and Richard Parker. The tale is taught, I felt every lash of the waves and trembled with every movement of the tiger. The landing on the algae island gave my biological mind something to chew on pondering the plausibility of the science, but ultimately reason gave way to the compelling story telling. And it does right to the end.
Pi eventually makes it to land, as we knew he would. He is pushed to tell his tale and met with incredulity. As the reader here I felt angry on his behalf, that he could have survived so much in the face of death and be met with such human indifference and inability to believe. And I still believed every minute of his journey, even when offered an alternative I chose Pi's narrative. A little part of me fell in love with the salt encrusted Indian boy and his generous religion. It was a book I was truly sad to finish, and took me very little time to read because it is genuinely compelling.
'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel £6.99
Read it!! It comes complete with the literary seal of approval. And if my word isn't good enough for you, well those people at Booker liked it too...
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