Wednesday, December 21, 2005

52. Life of Pi

by Yann Martel

Sometimes I’m wary of books that garner a lot of attention and win major prizes. Even if the book comes with a personal recommendation, it may still be a while before I’m convinced to pick it up because sometimes those awards are really misleading. (Anyone else read The Shipping News?) Thus, three years passed between the time I received my first recommendation to read Life of Pi, which won a Booker in 2002, and the time that I actually sought it out in a bookstore and read it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

As anyone who knows anything about books probably already knows, Life of Pi is the story of Pi Patel who was orphaned in the Pacific ocean when the boat carrying him, his family, and their zoo sank on its way from India to Canada. After being thrown into the ocean by some Chinese pirates, he inhabits a lifeboat with an orangutan, an incapacitated zebra, and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger so-named by virtue of a clerical error. It isn’t too long before it’s just Pi and Richard Parker and Pi must learn to keep his 450-pound companion happy enough to prevent his own grisly end. Pi establishes dominance over the tiger using his knowledge of circus training and, for the most part, Richard Parker emits friendly grunts. The two exist harmoniously, with Pi providing Richard Parker with fresh water and food and the tiger providing Pi with much-needed companionship.

I read the majority of this book over one weekend because I wanted so badly to know how it all ended. It’s a given that Pi survives his journey, but how is the burning question. Although the beginning part chronicling Pi’s tripartite religious beliefs turned me off a little – that one could simultaneously subscribe to Islam, Hindu, and Christianity strikes me as unrealistic – it did speak to Pi’s character as one who could find God in anything. That’s sort of the theme of the story – the ability to suspend one’s disbelief when all logical contentions point elsewhere. We have to believe that Richard Parker doesn’t dispose of Pi and, beyond that, we have to believe some other pretty weird things that happen. There’s this one great scene involving a meerkat-infested island with exotic vegetation that made me gasp like I was watching an episode of Lost. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that it was so wonderfully disturbing when Pi unwrapped those leaves.

Then there’s the end. This was one of those endings that, like when I first watched The Usual Suspects, left me disappointed. Then sad. Then really impressed at the writer who could conceive of and execute such an intricate story. I also have to admire a writer that can make me exclaim, “What? No way!” like I’m there, listening to Pi recount the events, instead of in my pajamas and on my couch on a snowy Sunday morning. According to the Booker’s website, M. Night Shyamalan is slated to direct and write the screenplay for this book. IMDB says otherwise, so I’m not sure who to believe, but I sincerely hope Shyamalan gets the gig. He’s one of the few writer/directors that can hold you in suspense over the outcome of a story even when you already know its necessary conclusion. However, my recommendation is, should you have any desire to read the book, do so before the movie comes out. Yann Martel has a masterful handle on the English language and an ability to unfurl a plot that no movie should preempt.

“I have a story that will make you believe in God,” says the old man to our narrator at the very beginning of the book. Well, I already believe in God, Mr. Martel. This is a story that made me believe in the future of fiction.


Blogger piksea said...

I loved this book. I originally read a copy from the library, but later went out and bought a copy to pass around to people who I thought would really enjoy it.

I think Pi won me over with his embracing of the multiple religions. I've come to believe that the major religions are really awfully similar when you get past the names of the major characters.

I'm glad that you were pleasantly surprised by this book. Have you read Christopher Moore's "Lamb?" I tend to put these two books together in my mind.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Exxie said...

I haven't read Christopher Moore, but he is on the to-be-read list. I've heard many good things.

7:32 AM  

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