Friday, 28 December 2012

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Yann Martel

A slight confession here, my interest in this book, in the past, has been passing at best and was only piqued when I seen the trailer for the film release which looks absolutely beautiful.
Before seeing the film I decided to take up the opportunity to finally read the novel and I couldn’t be happier.

The novel is a work of beauty with a wonderfully rich and dense writing style, the opening chapters burst with sounds, colours and smells, indeed there is a passage in which the eponymous Pi describes the smell of a burnt flare as smelling of cumin which sent be raiding through my kitchen cupboards for a chance to smell what Pi was smelling.
I can think of very few other books where I have so wished to be sucked inside the pages, to experience the world of Pi’s India, smell the spices in the air and feel the salt spray washing across the lifeboat.

Martel does a wonderful job of creating such a ridiculous scenario but giving it so much life and detail that at no point does the story feel impossible, well….ok there’s a couple of moments nearer the end that are a bit too improbable but never so much that the novel becomes un-enjoyable.
The detailed description of Pi’s slow deterioration atop his vessel, reluctantly abandoning vegetarianism at first before succumbing to hunger to the point he is eating bone marrow and the partially digested content of fish stomachs, is heartbreaking and down at such a slow agonising pace that it feels painfully genuine.
Likewise his gradual training of Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger Pi finds himself marooned alongside.
Pi makes a point of warning against the dangers of anthropomorphising animals. The floating menagerie is not populated with the friendly animal pals of the Disney universe, these animals are real, dangerous and despite such an odd scenario, Martel manages to make Pi’s gradual taming of Richard Parker feels like it could be possible.

It was also interesting to read a book that took such a stubborn pro-zoo stance, a position I have never seen covered in fiction before, Zoos are so often shown to be horrible places, torturing animals by keeping them caged and away from their natural environment, instead Pi paints them as wonderful places, helping to preserve species, a place where animals would rather live.
Pi’s arguments that animals don’t yearn for the hardships of the wild and instead are happier to be confined in a place where they are fed daily is a very convincing one.

Overall, a wonderfully dense book that I sped through with pleasure, it’s not without flaws but these flaws are so minimal and trivial that they don’t bear mentioning. It’s a brilliant piece of writing combining thick detailed text with the occasional Spartan feel of a Brautigan book, the humorous asides of John Irving and an intelligent ending that will leave you questioning the entire text. It’s a piece of fiction I shall be returning too in the future and would devour as gladly as Pi would devour the mountains of curry he dreams of from his boat.

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