Sunday, August 5, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Dust Jacket Description:

"After the sinking of a cargo ship, a single solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the surface of the wild, blue Pacific. The crew of the surviving vessel consist of a hyena, an orang-utan, a zebra with a broken leg, a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger and Pi Patel, a 16-year-old Indian boy. The stage is set for one of the most extraordinary pieces of literary fiction in recent years, a novel of such rare and wondrous storytelling that it may, as one character claims, make you believe in God. Can a reader reasonably ask for anything more?"

When it comes to wildly successful novels, I have to say that I am rather the literary hipster.

Ever since Twilight came as a hideous, crushing disappointment, I've been weary of extremely popular books. I thought Life of Pi would be one of those overly sentimental pieces of literature that seems to be in love with the sound of its own narrative voice. Thank goodness I had to read it for English class, because I was proven wrong and then some.

Characters: The author's note and dust jacket suggest that Life of Pi is a story that will make you believe in God. While I'm still a big ol atheist, it's largely because of this book that I have more than just a thin respect for religion. In fact, I now see it as one of the most imaginative and necessary paradigms in the known word, and how it holds a deep connection to the humanity in all of us.

Pi is a great character to help aid in the description's sales pitch. He's a polite, creative and analytical boy with three religions. It was during Pi's elaborations on his religious beliefs that I softened and truly became enamoured with his perception of the universe. Pi certainly grows as a character through out the trials and tribulations of the novel, but he's consistently likable and interesting to read about. Martel crafts Pi's coming of age with precision, and also manages to show how his intense relationship with God keeps him from fully surrendering to the dark.

Most of the side characters were distinct, but didn't really hold my attention. The anthropomorphizing of Richard Parker the tiger was incredibly fascinating, though, and Pi's kinship with the animal proved to be a great metaphor.

I wouldn't say that the characterization is the crowning glory of Life of Pi, mostly because Pi feels emotionally distant from the reader. I have a feeling that this was Martel's intended purpose, though, and this element of the story still proves as a blank slate for Martel's compelling ideas. 4 and a half flowers.

Writing: Martel's writing is so multi-layered that I couldn't help but love it. The metaphors were constant and thought provoking, and the reality-bending nature of the piece was stunning. The tone is perfection all the way through. There's nothing to fault here, and that's saying something. 5 flowers.

Plot: The pace is a little slow, but it works for the story. There are enough elements to keep readers interested at all times, from Pi's survival on sea, to the unreliability of the narrative, to Richard Parker's interactions with Pi. It feels classical in pacing, and I liked that. Even when I was a little bored of wondering where Martel was going, I had to keep following. 4 and a half flowers.

End: I'll admit, I merely liked this book before the end. Once I read the third part, I finally fell in love with it. The real point of the story is seen during the third act, and it makes you completely reevaluate everything that came before it. In a world where most recent novels seem to advocate for secularism, it's refreshing to read a pro-religion story with an unusual narrative. The moral is something to think about a long time after the book is closed. 5 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description: It's so perfect, until you see the classic mistake of a rhetorical question. It's like the copy editor knew how easy it was to sell Life of Pi on its originality and then gave up at the end. 4 flowers.

Cover: I still can't decide whether I like it or not. The font is good, as well as the feel of the illustration, but I have flip-flopping feelings about the tiger's face. 3 and a half flowers.

Overall: If you were as turned off by the success of this book as I was, don't be. It's unusual, exciting, intriguing and well-crafted. It's worth reading, mostly because of the kind of discussion you can have after you've finished. 5 flowers.


  1. Excellent, excellent review. Very thorough, and analytical without being academic. We really appreciate your comments! And if this book weren't already on our TBR list, well it certainly would be now.

    By the way have you seen the trailer for the movie? There is lots of… Chatter, about whether or not this book should even have been turned into a movie, and whether or not it will work. We haven't read it, but we have to say, the movie looks great!

    1. The movie does look interesting, and I'd like to think that the film will incorporate the very necessary reality-bending elements of the story. I'll definitely see it, regardless!

      And yes, it really is a must-read. I recommend it.