In my review of The Virgin Suicides, I mentioned that I considered it to be a ‘classic’ even though it was only published in 1993, so I guess I am pushing the boundaries even more now because Life of Pi was published in 2001. However, I am not alone in considering it to be a ‘classic’ – 432 people so far on Goodreads have tagged it as such. And like The Virgin Suicides, it’s one of those books that everybody has heard of, and not just because of the film adaptation. I chose Life of Pi to be my second classic of the year (I know, I know – I’m behind!) to coincide with the film, which I really need to see because it looks beautifully made, and because it was one of those books that I had always be meaning to read, but just never got round to it. I had seen it being referred to as ‘fantasy’ and conjured up in my mind a picture of a very happy, light-hearted story. I was incorrect. Again.
Life of Pi surprised me. It’s both incredibly witty and incredibly harrowing. I read a lot of dark novels, in a way, from murder mystery to bleak dystopic societies, teenagers with cancer to post-apocalyptic wastelands, but it is rare that wit is incorporated. And you know what? It makes for an enjoyable combination and was my favourite aspect of the novel, along with the beautiful writing. It’s described as ‘masterful and utterly original’ and I have to agree; it is like nothing I have read before. Simply, it’s a fascinating tale about an attempt to survive on a lone lifeboat in the Pacific – the strength it takes to carry on, persevering through the boredom, unquenchable thirst, the sheer terror of being trapped with a dangerous animal, constantly afraid of making the wrong move, which may result in your sudden death. It was uncomfortable to read at times (especially as I am fond of turtles). In a novel where not a lot ‘happens’, everything is heightened. I both could and couldn’t possibly imagine Pi’s desperate, lugubrious situation.
And yet it is not one of my favourite novels. I wasn’t swayed, for the lack of a better word, by the discussions of God and religion and faith. It simply does not interest me (I read The Shack because of the mystery plot…) and it does take up quite a bit of the novel, especially at the beginning. Because of this, I find it difficult to look at Life of Pi as more than the sum of its parts. There is plenty I enjoyed telling other people about: survival (I feel I have learned a lot), Richard Parker, Pi’s childhood, but it isn’t enough to make it wholly memorable for me. Yet I appreciated the unexpected and underlying humour, from the set up of the story describing Pi’s life in a zoo and how his father warned him about tigers, to Pi’s blunt humour under the most extreme circumstances – and his ability to make fun of himself. I couldn’t help but find him an endearing character, quite a feat when he’s really the only character.
Life of Pi is known for its iconic cover, depicting a boy, a boat, and a tiger, but there is a lot more to get out of it. It’s well worth the read, if only to see what everyone else is talking about!
Publisher: Knopf Canada (Canada) Mariner Books (US) Canongate (UK)