Thursday, April 04, 2013

Life of Pi (Book Review)

Author: Yann Martel
Year: 2001
Genre: Novel

Reading Level: Adult

Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize (2002), Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2003), Governor General's Literary Awards / Prix littéraires du Gouverneur général Nominee for Fiction (2001), Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2005) Hugh MacLennan Prize (2001), Deutscher Bücherpreis for Belletristik (2004), CBC Canada Reads Nominee (2003)

Plot Summary: Sixteen-year-old Pi Patel is on a Canada-bound ship with his family when disaster strikes and the ship is sunk.  Pi, the sole human survivor, is stranded on a life boat, along with another survivor--a fully grown Bengal tiger.

Red Flags: Peril, animal blood and guts (of a circle-of-life nature), the messiness that comes with survival stories

Movie adaptation (I highly recommend it, though I recommend reading the book first)

My Rating: A
I had a lot of faulty ideas of what this book was about (how does this keep happening?).  I thought it was almost pure allegory or involved story telling between Pi and the tiger.  What I did NOT expect was an actual story of survival at sea.  Of course, that's what it's about but not necessarily what it means.  I know--deep.  

Anyway, I very much enjoyed this book.  The writing is lovely--detailed but not laborious, straight forward but not spare.  Yann Martel paints such vivid pictures of times, places and characters.  The characters themselves are engaging, true to life and relatable, even when their specific circumstances are not.  It was a gripping reading experience, and made me realize that I rather enjoy being horrified and awestruck by nature.  The only little quibble I have is that with so much focus on religion in the first part, I wish that aspect had come a bit more full circle in the end.  Not that I want to be hit over the head with Meaning, but just something to bring it back to that first part.  Then again, maybe it did and I didn't get it.

As for what it means, I admit that when I finished this book my reaction was "..."  I like ambiguous endings when they're done well (which this is), but part of me just wanted a clear answer.  But if I had gotten one, would I still be thinking about it now?  Doubtful.  I really don't think I'm insightful enough to pick out the deep thoughts here (I was pretty happy with it just as a harrowing tale of survival, to be honest), but with regards to the end, one reviewer on Goodreads summed it up by saying the question the reader faces at the end is not only which story they prefer/believe but what that preference says about them.  Since I go back and forth even now, I guess that means I am wishy washy.

Memorable lines:
"The first time I went to an Indian restaurant in Canada I used my fingers.  The waiter looked at me critically and said 'Fresh off the boat, are you?'  I blanched.  My fingers, which a second before had been taste buds savoring the food a little ahead of my mouth, became dirty under his gaze.  They froze like criminals caught in the act.  I didn't dare lick them.  I wiped them guiltily on my napkin.  He had no idea how deeply those words wounded me.  They were like nails being driven into my flesh. I picked up the knife and fork.  I had hardly ever used such instruments.  My hands trembled.  My sambar lost its taste."

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