A review of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pi Patel is a quirky, endearing narrator who’s issues of culture shock and displacement will resonate with all travellers and expats. The introduction to the novel, a short bio of Patel’s life, was a Rusdie-calibre digression, beautifully contracted and though funny, felt deeply sincere. It creates a narrator/reader bond that you just don’t see that much these days.

Life of Pi is wildly colourful, full of life, just tiptoeing the edges of magical realism. Without delving head-on into the surreal, as with magicians GM Marquez or Toni Morrison, Martel does infuse a sense of breaching the impossible, of crossing a line into a place where the power of the mind shapes the world (quantum physicists will agree, it’s not that far-fetched). The plot and pacing are simply a testament to Martel’s skill, suspense driven forwards relentlessly; and he does it with only one “human” character for at least 3/4 of the novel. Hat’s off.

Something truly atavistic is triggered in my mind when I read about a more or less normal (bonus points for urban, city-dwelling) character being thrust into a world where Nature is king; the ocean, the jungle, the tundra, the deserted island… Think crazed family in Mosquito Coast, think Jack London’s pansy londoner in Sea-Wolf, think little Mowgli… When you “see” a common mortal being confronted with the elemental power of nature, having to fight for survival in the arena of the Gods, you root for them, you cheer, you scream obscenities at their enemies. It’s an archetype that spills across all borders, one that most can relate to, and Martel truly brought something new and truly poetic to the “Man VS Wild” theme. Pi Patel on his lifeboat was I think a game-changer.

I hope the movie lives up to the reputation (Ang Lee, you watch your step now), and I’ll be reading this again soon. Also, the author’s first name really has a nice ring to it, in my opinion.

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