Most fiction is exactly what the word implies, a creative narrative. A reader must realize from the start the author is free to develop a completely false world within the text. In reading Life of Pi, despite the obvious fact that the novel is fiction, it becomes easy to ask yourself over and over- did that really happen? At times, authors like Yann Martel utilize tactics to deceive the reader into believing the novel is something a real person experienced.
Martel makes certain the reader doesn’t immediately dismiss the outlandish story of his protagonist, Pi, by adding a preface where he describes meeting the adult Pi in India. The author can explain his unbelievable story because he has met Pi- and it is Pi who really narrates the novel.
Pi spends his childhood growing up in India. His father is a zookeeper. This is where he develops an affinity for animals and makes daily observations about the way the animals act and live. Pi knows what the animals eat, which ones are able to adapt to certain habitats and live together (zoomorphism), and which animals will become aggressive if made anxious or threatened. Anyone who like animals will find this part entertaining, until the inevitable shift.
The boy’s family must move with their animals to Canada. The only way is to take a ship, which sinks leaving Pi alone in a lifeboat with…a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and Bengal tiger. What follows does include some humor thanks to the animals. But, when faced with the choice of death or survival animals will always choose life, and often in the most gruesome ways.
Most people can imagine what would happen if a person were trapped on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific for hundreds of days. I am not really entertained by focusing on the details of a person suffering in this way. The idea of the boredom a person would face with only the ability to think about hunger and thirst, the possibility of death, and time crawling by, is enough to make reading about it actually cause a feeling of anxiety. Reading page after page is not really necessary.
There is an element of beauty to the relationship Pi develops with the Bengal tiger, Richard Parker. After some time, he realizes that without his companion, he would not have the will to live. Pi had mentioned zoomorphism earlier in the novel, which the two are now participating in together. It becomes clear that Richard Parker is not only willing to accept his living arrangement with Pi, he depends upon him.
In the last pages of the novel, Pi describes his experiences at sea to investigators of the shipwreck. They aren’t happy with his reports of sharing a lifeboat with animals, so he gives another, more realistic account. If someone had suffered such a traumatic incident, who knows what they would choose to believe had happened. As a reader having constantly questioned the validity of the story, I decided the author does wrap it up quite nicely in the end. Even though a reader may know it is fiction, the fact that a story remains true to life in its capacity to capture emotion and events makes it very genuine.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
For more information: Film (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0454876/
the Guardian on Yann Martel: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/yann-martel