I can only tell my story, what you believe is up to you.
I was very, very surprised by this novel. Like Emma Donoghue’s Room, it spent an obscene amount of time on my Will-I-Won’t-I list of popularly considered must read titles and gathered an impressive layer of dust on my shelf. Then, about a month ago, I read it. Finally. And far from being disappointing, it was one of the most uplifting, upsetting, and inspiring books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
It seems a simple tale, really: en route from Pondicherry to Canada, a young Indian boy – Pi – ends up stranded on a life boat. His only company a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and, of course, a Bengal tiger. His adventure contains all the terror and violence you might expect from such a motley crew, as well as the often impossible hope for that sliver of land Pi longs to spot on the horizon. He somehow survives his ordeal at sea, yes, and lives to tell. And, if a reader is looking for just a good adventure, you might very well close the book right there and Pi’s story will be just that. But great books are hardly ever just simple tales. And this particular one has a challenging ending that we are left to decide whether to believe or not – and then, the question, if we do believe, how does that change what we thought we were certain of before?
I enjoyed the mix of spirituality, fantasy and philosophy Martel weaved through this story. His writing is vivid and imaginative, Pi’s transformation from 16-year-old schoolboy to whatever-it-takes survivalist is especially gut-wrenching – don’t for a second think that you’ll be bored reading the odd 200 pages of a boy stuck in a life boat. And Pi is certainly one of those fictional characters I truly wish were flesh and blood, someone I long to debate with beneath a tree in the searing Indian heat.
Did The Life of Pi make me believe in God, as its narrator promises it will early on? Probably no more or less than I already do. But it did give me that lingering feeling of seeing the world and its stories just a bit differently after I finished its last sentence. As a brilliant read should.