Life of Pi is a refreshing novel about modern society. All values and everything we take for granted is questioned. Written by Yann Martel in 2002, it was an instant success, sealing Martel’s literary reputation.
The main character is a man called Pi (short for Piscine Molitor, a swimming club in Paris). He starts off as a middle age man looking back into his childhood and upbringing. The suspense is maintained throughout the first pages as an important and “life changing” event in Pi’s life is repeatedly mentioned without giving away details. He finally goes on to tell us the story of the shipwreck. He is on a boat with his family and zoo animals when it sinks. He manages to climb onto a life boat with a tiger, a hyena, a zebra and an orang-utan. The animals kill themselves one by one, until only the tiger remains.
The rest of the tale tells the story of how Pi tames the tiger (whom he names Richard Parker) and how the animal saves him from insanity. “Without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.” Pi then goes on to explain that the tiger becomes a reassuring and soothing presence on the lifeboat; the boy’s quest to domesticate him gives him another aim than simply surviving. The tiger becomes the second protagonist of this novel, although he is in no way personified. The reader continues to see him as the animal that he is and some critics say that he represents Pi’s animal instincts.
But the trek across the sea is not easy; the pair is faced with obstacles that would seem unconquerable by even the bravest of us. Pi feels the strain, describing his situation as “as pointless as the weather.”
The literary style of the allegory varies throughout the book. It ranges from funny to philosophical, passing through fantastic. The novel is written entirely in the past tense, with different people (mainly Pi) narrating the story.
The book won many awards, including the Man Booker Prize. It was later adapted into a film and a play.
This is a book that calls for an unoriginal yet strikingly true remark: I was not able to put it down. The character of Pi is intriguing yet slightly endearing and terribly attaching. You want to follow his story until the end. His feelings and the reader’s judgment become difficult to differentiate as the compelling story takes its grip. The style of the novel approaches a lyrical prose and the beauty of his descriptions are breathtaking. Some critics have said that the novel’s narrative frame isn’t necessary but I disagree. The opening passage makes the rest of the book all the more compelling.