When I heard that Life of Pi was going to become a movie, I knew it was time for me to re-read the 2001 bestseller. I love to re-read good books. In working with this I have an awful memory for the things I read, making it very entertaining for me to go back to a story 8-10 times or so. So when I picked up the book I knew four things: It was well-written, the boy is lost at sea, something about a tiger, and something about meerkats.
Well as usual it was a bit more than that. Even starting with the Author’s Note I was hooked. Martel writes that he was given a grant from the Canadian Council for the Arts, and gratefully traveled to India to write a novel about Portugal in 1939. What he ends up with is something very different
We are introduced to Pi Patel. He seems like a pretty good sort of teenager, but surprisingly one who has, despite being raised in a mostly non-religious family in India, developed a fascination for all faiths. He speaks fondly of the zoo his family runs, his swimming practices, and his devotion to religion, highlighted with a funny moment when his priest, pandit and imam all converge on him at the same time. This may all seem a bit dull, but believe me when I say Martel makes it sound like prose. At the end of Part One we discover that the Patel family will be relocating to Canada, traveling in a cargo ship which will carry many of their animals that are being sold off to a variety of zoos all over the world. Then Part Two starts.
Unfortunately this is the type of book where I won’t be giving much away. The surprises are part of the beauty of the story, and Martel has a knack for letting you in on the cliffhangers, yet keeping you glued in till the end. But I will say this: the ship sank, and Pi Patel survives 227 incredible days at sea. With a tiger.
It’s a beautiful story, and Martel has wonderful talent at evoking emotion and humor from his words. Without dragging the story on we can feel Pi’s desperation. Without a movie screen we can see the intense action Pi experiences in his journey. Pi relates his knowledge on training animals, yet it doesn’t disrupt his tale. We find legitimacy in a fantastical event, and though the story holds so much sorrow, we dwell instead on the hope for his survival. The occasional flash forwards that comes in between chapters were another nice touch, where we get glances of the author interviewing Patel for this story.
This book seems like it should be in a category of its own. It has hints of Jules Verne, but where his stories turned textbookish and a little stale, Life of Pi is soul-searching and emotional. I love that Martel writes this story as it might have been real, adding a whole other dimension to the book. This is definitely a movie I’m looking forward to see this winter!