Thursday, August 14, 2008

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Life of Pi is a truly brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable novel. I do not read a lot of contemporary fiction---due to a leaning toward non-fiction and a fascination for the classics---but I am going to have to start. I think I underestimated the authors of today. I'd hate to be missing the future classics at their birth.

The Life of Pi is about a boy named Piscine Molitor, the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India, who sets across the ocean with his family only to end up in---well, you have to read it to believe it. The first half of the book is about his childhood, and the rest is this almost mythological tale of his high-seas adventures.

Yann Martel exhibits an almost paradoxical writing style: It is matter-of-fact fantasty, it is playful and gripping, and is a brightfully told account of a devestating tale. I have since turned my summer-reading attention to The Kite Runner, a highly acclaimed novel in its own right---but have had a hard time shifting gears. Martel's book is so wonderful I just can't leave its world for another easily.

I kept waiting for the action in this novel to pick up, but by the time part one was over, I was sad to see it ending. Following young Pi around his father's zoo and through his spiritual journey into Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity (I told you it was a fantasy) was just mesmorizing. There are plenty of innocently provocative lines, such as the following, one of my favourites:

"I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both."

The reviews on the cover of Yann Martel's novel give it high praise. But this is usually the case on a book jacket isn't it? I'd also had this recommended to me by several people. But it just took me a while to get around to it. I am kicking myself for having waited so long. I haven't enjoyed fiction reading so thoroughly since Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' space trilogy.


Tony Tanti said...

Fantastic Jon! I love this book and you've inspired me to read it again.

I love that quote too, one of my favorites in the book.

Tara said...

I loved this book too...although
i despised the epilogue!

Neil D. said...

To be honest I first heard of this book from an Episode of Corner Gas.
Even though I love and I am a big fan of the show. I did not pay much attention to the book.
But, I have been hearing more and more about The Life of Pi and now you have me curious.
Just may have to pick it up and place it on the ever growing need to read pile.

jon said...

That's interesting about the epilogue Tara. At first I found it sort of a let-down, like I needed a better exit strategy from the book. But then as it went on I grew to love it and felt it was the perfect ending.

Here's a question for you (and if you haven't read the book you may wish to stop now lest I ruin it):

Given that the book contains an implicit teaser that this story will "make you believe in God", does the way it ends have something to say about the place of religion?

Remember how Pi tells the interviewers a more believable, but also more disturbing and gruesome, version of the story and then asks them which one they liked better?

He actual words are: "since . . . you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer?"

Given how laced the story (and even the interview) is with spiritual/religious significance, is this Yann Martel's way of presenting religion as our preferred myth?

I think that is what he is saying, and that it is said in a good way, but one of the results is that the place of religion is pragmatic, and so the message, while inspiring, ultimately boils down to: "believe whatever works for you, whatever instills your life with meaning". Even if it is the opiate of the masses, it is a preferrable opiate.

Am I way off here?

I'm not trying to discredit it. I found it very compelling and inspiring in a wonderful way, and the way I'm boiling it down does not do justice to either its artfulness or its subtlety.

I think there are also other ways to look at it. Perhaps the whole story is meant to show the power of belief and religion in enabling courage and romance at life. Maybe the whole story is not about religion v. no religion, but is supposed to recapture that inspiring and wonderful side of religion in a time when we are surrounded daily by nothing but its depressing and dismal side?

As with all great art, I am sure in the author's mind it could be all or none of those things.

Does any of that grab any of its readers? Ring any bells?

No? I'm an idiot then? Great. Maybe I have a potential career writing Coles notes?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo said...

Looking forward to reading it. It is now, officially, on my embarrassingly large too read list.

Resort said...

brb... after reading the book that sounds interesting..