Book Review

Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I decided to read this one simply because it had been turned into a film and seemed to be popular. So I wanted to find out about it for myself.


Now, the way this book is written, it really is a ‘life’. The almost tedious detail of the first few chapters meant that I started reading this a while ago and only picked it up again recently. The interest for me was in the animals and the life of a boy who lived at a zoo, (rather than the religious aspect), and this meant that I eagerly read the rest of the book when I went back to it.

I worried that a shipwreck story would result in a slow feeling to the rest of the book but, despite obviously pointed out imagery, the pace of the book continued quickly and I happily munched my way through it.

The section during the shipwreck really gives an impression of the kind of despair, hopelessness and pain that you would imagine is just right for that kind of situation.

The psychological and controlling approach to dealing with a tiger on board your lifeboat (!) seems perfectly sensible and well thought through.

I haven’t watched the film, only read the plot summary and seen the trailer, but in it you see the tiger lying his head on Pi’s lap. Sure it’s a film, but that’s just plain ridiculous and unbelievable.

But, I think, the most important point, (and I certainly don’t feel that the entire narrative is pervaded by religion), is the alternative story told to the Japanese Shipping Company at the end.

[Gentle spoilers] Now that, sadly, is much more believable and I love the idea that that young boy, unable to cope with the human brutality and the horrors faced at sea, splits his own personality between that of human and tiger for his journey. The tiger is wild at the start, because Pi is panicked and does not know what to do, so lets his ‘wild’ nature and survival instinct take over. By the time he reaches land again, there is no need for the tiger to stay as that part of his nature can be suppressed again. And reaching the meerkat island? In such an apparently safe place the tiger personality isn’t needed during the day, only at night when there is danger, so we don’t see the tiger during the day until he comes back to the boat at night. In my head, that works nicely.

I don’t know whether it was the intent of Martel to set up this alternative narrative as a real alternative or a ‘humans are worse than animals, which would you prefer’ alternative. But that, for me, was what made the book, and was the perfect twist for what, otherwise, would have been a sickeningly happy ending.

I hear that in the film this part isn’t over-emphasised, which is a shame as it changes the story from a somewhat soppy ‘I survived by the grace of god and my own skills’ to the desperation and cruelty of humans, and certainly made it a four star, rather than a three star, book for me.

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