So, being told a book is a winner of the Booker tends to be a mark against it from the start, unfortunately.
Yes, he'd published two books that failed to shake the world - eager, studious-young-man's fiction with a strain of self-conscious experimentalism - and taken off to India nursing the faltering seeds of another. But no, he didn't there meet a wise old man who directed him to a putative "main character", now living back in Martel's native Toronto: Despite the extraordinary premise and literary playfulness, one reads Life of Pi not so much as an allegory or magical-realist fable, but as an edge-of-seat adventure.
When the ship in which year-old Pi and his zookeeping family are to emigrate from India to Canada sinks, leaving him the sole human survivor in a lifeboat on to which barge a zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan and a bedraggled, seasick tiger, Pi is determined to survive the impossible.
The amazing will be seen every day. Martel dextrously prepares us for the seafaring section in the first part of the book, which describes Pi's sunny childhood in the Pondicherry zoo and his triple conversion to Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
We learn much about animal behaviour - flight distances, aggression, social hierarchy - which is later translated to Pi's survival tactics on the lifeboat.
Like a lion tamer in the circus ring, Pi must convince the tiger that he is the super-alpha male, using toots on his whistle as a whip and the sea as a source of treats, marking the boundary of his territory on the boat with urine and fierce, quaking stares. The ongoing miracle of his existence at sea is also foreshadowed by his spiritual life on land; Pi is a creature of faith or faiths who sees eternally renewed wonder in God and his creation.
There is joy on the lifeboat - as well as horror, and gore, and "tense, breathless boredom". He had chosen his irrational nickname because of his schoolmates' insistence on pronouncing Piscine as "pissing", but he also has a believer's scepticism about reason, "that fool's gold for the bright".
In one of the many elegant, informative digressions in the book's first section, Martel takes us through instances of zoomorphism, whereby an animal takes a human or another animal to be one of its own species, and the usual predator-prey relationship is suspended. Pi characterises this adaptive leap of faith as "that measure of madness that moves life in strange but saving ways"; in other words, his coexistence with the tiger is possible precisely because it has never happened before.
Faith and science, two marvelling perspectives on the world, coexist throughout the book in a fine, delicate balance, as when the two Mr Kumars, one Pi's atheist teacher and the other the baker who introduces him to Islam, meet at the zoo to "take the pulse of the universe" and wonder together, in opposing ways, at the sheer surprisingness of the zebra and its stripes.
In its subject and its style, this enormously lovable novel is suffused with wonder: As Martel promises in his author's note, this is fiction probing the imaginative realm with scientific exactitude, twisting reality to "bring out its essence".
The realism that carried the reader in the erratic wake of the small boy and large tiger falters as they begin to waste away and die - and then the book gets seriously strange, with ghostly visitations and impossible islands, as though Martel wants not so much to test our credulity as entirely to annihilate it.
It's an odd tactic, though it does leave a fertile interpretative space, a dark undercurrent below the narrative's main structure, which has the neatness of fable. Though horrors are hinted at, "this story", as the book had unfashionably assured us, "has a happy ending.
Of course, the officials who arrive to investigate the ship's sinking don't believe him for a moment. In a daring coda, Pi offers them another story, which turns the tale on its head and seals Martel's extraordinary, one-off achievement. He had written earlier about how a blinkered dedication to factuality can lead one to "miss the better story".
The better story has a tiger in it.Piscine Molitor Patel is the protagonist and, for most of the novel, the narrator. In the chapters that frame the main story, Pi, as a shy, graying, middle-aged man, tells the author about his early childhood and the shipwreck that changed his life.
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Morality remains a subject too complex to simply just toss around the table. Pi is an interesting kid, because he finds much to be admired in many different religions, and decides to become members of three prominent ones.
This disturbs his parents, and the leaders of each. Life of Pi movie reviews & Metacritic score: Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, is a magical adventure story centering on Pi Patel, the precocio.
Though Richard Parker is quite fearsome, ironically his presence helps Pi stay alive. Alone on the lifeboat, Pi has many issues to face in addition to the tiger onboard: lack of food and water, predatory marine life, treacherous sea currents, and exposure to the elements.