Monday, September 27, 2010

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Life of Pi's best feature is the basic premise.

Life of Pi: Deluxe Illustrated Edition

I mean, most writers claim that 'all writing is based on other writing.' That there is no such thing as a 'new plot' because nearly every plot in the world has been done to death. Not this one. Its actually a story about a guy stuck on a lifeboat with a hyena, orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg and - wait for it - a 450 pound royal bengal tiger. (Of course, to make it more believable, in the end its just him and one other animal on the boat - guess which one...) I first took this book on the recommendation of a friend, but the second part of what made me borrow this book from the library was, of course, the back cover. I don't particularly like castaway stories, or animal stories, but seriously - I just had to read this one to know what Martel could possibly do with it.

Moving on to the technical aspects of the story - the writing was good. I liked how the story was narrated by the main character, I like how there are interludes in the writing where the author shows the present-day scenario of the same man (I particularly love a heart-warming scene where Pi hugs his daughter and the author steps in to say, 'This story has a happy ending.' This is particularly fun as the next page begins with Pi being assailed by sharks). I enjoyed the end portion (the only part of the book I found laugh out loud funny is the conversation of the Japanese officials with Pi) and in general the writing is crisp and the book moves along smoothly. The characterization is impeccable (of the humans and animals) and I particularly liked the description of the religion and the other larger themes within the book. The story begins with a glimpse into Pi's childhood as a zookeeper's son that really helps you understand where he is coming from.

However, I do believe that the end of this book fell flat. The whole 'island scenario' is both unbelievable and odd, I don't understand either why it has to be put into the story or what it was doing it. As such, (despite the apparent correctness of the biological facts), this story is a little hard to swallow - but you manage if you suspend your disbelief a little bit - but the end just becomes incredulous and absurd and that is not the best of all experiences. Personally, according to me, the ending let-down the book. I could believe everything else but that was a little hard to swallow.

Final thoughts: A good book - great premise, well written, well narrated, well characterized. A bit of an unbelievable book requiring some belief, with a highly absurd ending. Borrow it from the library, I wouldn't buy it.

Other thoughts: I have got my hands on a LOT of books right now - The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, New York by Edward Rutherfurd, The Color of Magic by Terry Prachett (described as the P.G. Woodhouse of fantasy) and Blue Moon Rising by Simon Green. Expect a lot of reviews in the predictable future.


  1. Spot on. The book was gripping till the island scenario happened. And man, it dragged from there and how :P. I guess the ending was to put the story in a much darker perspective. You dunno how to rate this book after you are done with it;the last part is a let down

  2. I think this book is beyond logic - into the realm of magic realism. But I agree that is some places it just dragged. I read this a long time ago though - maybe I should run over it again.

    The Colour of Magic is one of my fav Terry Pratchetts, but then again, I've loved them all. Enjoy.

  3. Oh I have seen this book in stores and had heard a few good reviews about it. It does look funny but if the story is unbelievable, I may not like it. Probably will borrow it or read an ebook, wont spend money on the hardcopy.

  4. @Pavan: Glad you agree. :) I've heard the same review from so many people now that I wonder really why the author put it in at all. Did he think that saying 'biologists will not believe the following...' would excuse anything?

    @Pujhita: I agree too. I can also see it dragging in many places if the reader has different expectations - I mean someone wanting a story about cool animals in a lifeboat is going to be disappointed to find that the first few chapters are more about religion and family life and stuff like that.

    Ooh...I'm half way through 'The Color of Magic' and its fun... :D

    @Evanescent Thoughts: I think you should definitely borrow or read as an e-book. This is not a book I'm going to re-read again.

  5. Sakhi,
    you have not mentioned about the very intriguing interview by those two officers and how Pi typecasts his story to show a cook, his mom and a vilain.

    All in all wonderful book review :)

    keep reviewing.
    and if possible drop me a note when you write :):)

  6. Hi,
    That was really a great part of the book. Seriously. The interview was a highlight of the book. Too bad most people wont make it too that part because of the island part.
    Thanks so much.

    P.s. - I will shoot you a note everytime a new review comes out. :D

  7. I have not read this book. Thanks for the review.

  8. Sakhz... I haven't read the book as of yet, but had been meaning to. Thanks for the review. I had forgotten about the book for a while, but was reminded twice in the past week. You were one, and the other is the story below. Read on: thought I would share some "gossip".

    As you may know, Ang Lee (director of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain etc) is making the book into a film, due for release in 2012. A friend's brother was "discovered" and asked to go to audition for the role (only 4 boys were finalized from the entire country). He is a young guy without any acting aspirations, and is an IT professional.

    He didn't get the role due to his lack of acting background, but was called back by the casting company last week for the role of Pi's brother. He starts filming in Jan. :)

  9. Hi,
    Nice review..
    I heard about this book lots of time......
    I will defntly pick this one soon...... :)

    Thanks for the review......

  10. Life of Pi is one of my favourite books.
    This is a good review; although I have to say, for me, it was the last part that made it real. Not real in the sense that I found it believable; more like real because I found it hard to believe, crazy even. It's the account of a survivor, alone on the Pacific ocean for I don't remember how many days but many, and with a tiger! He's bound to go nuts.. there has to be a part where none of it makes sense.
    If it wasn't written in first-person I would have agreed with you - but this I thought was like a necessary bad!

  11. @Ruchi didi: Thanks a lot for reading...and that is very interesting, I'm looking forward to the movie adaptation because I'm curious about how they will do it.

    @Sayed: Thanks for reading. :)

    @Priya: Well, there are a lot of liberties that can be taken in fiction. I'm a lover of fantasy where almost everything is believable - I just don't think it worked here. I guess its a matter of personal opinions.


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