Tuesday, 8 June 2010

#32 Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (Harvest Books)

I’ve finished! No, not the challenge, but the book I have been endeavouring to read for almost a decade: Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

For those who’ve not been following the challenge from the start, Life of Pi has been, in literary terms, the one that got away for me. I must have started the 2001 Man Booker Prize for Fiction winner four or five times over the years, only to give up halfway through for a reason I can never remember after the event.

Perhaps I needed the mental strength and drive that trying to complete this challenge provides. Because my first thought upon finally turning the last page was ‘what was all the fuss about?’ And when I say ‘fuss’, I mean in my head. I wasn’t blown away by what I’d read, but equally, it was perfectly fine and enjoyable.

Those who haven’t read Life of Pi are missing out on a fantastical tale of a boy, Pi, who is forced to live on a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger for 10 months after a ship transporting a number of animals sinks. This sounds enchanting – if hacking turtles and other animals apart in grisly detail can ever be enchanting - and indeed it is.

In many ways, it’s similar to James Cameron’s Titanic film, if readers will forgive a small diversion. Throughout that lavish epic, you’re waiting for the sinking of the ship because you know it will be spectacular, and then once it’s happened, it’s time to tie up a few loose ends and roll the credits. In Life of Pi, the real story only begins once the ship has sunk, but in both artistic projects the preamble to the sinking seems to last forever.

Of course, Titanic was rubbish, albeit big-budget and glossy rubbish, whereas Life of Pi retains a quirky charm once you get past the setting of the scene and the early religious pondering.

I find reading about religion difficult. Too often, assigning a character a religion is a quick way to broaden out their personality and beliefs in narrow dimensions with little effort. To Martel’s credit, Pi is intrigued by three different religions – Hindu, Christian and Muslim – which prompts a funny early encounter when leaders of those faiths meet his confused parents at the same time, but this is an all-too-brief relief from the philosophising.

There is much to enjoy in Life of Pi: some great insights into zoological life and nature, a battle for survival of mind and body and a tiger whose character is given the same depth and thought by the author as any human. Giving the tiger a ‘normal’ name is a masterstroke, by the way.

So, in conclusion, I can’t argue that Life of Pi was worth the wait, because it would have to be the greatest book of all time to have satisfied me after such a long time trying to complete it - but it was worth the effort, for which I am grateful.

So, rating time:

#32 Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (Harvest Books) - 6/10

Next up: The Informers, by Bret Easton Ellis (Random House)

  • Click here for the full list of books so far, and their rating
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