Thursday, April 24, 2008

Trevor's Review of Martel's Life of Pi

This book keeps returning to me. In the last few years it is one of the only books I've reread (there's just so much out there to get through). Not only is the story deeply interesting, but what Martel has to say about religion, particularly about how religion glosses human experiences and makes these experiences survivable, is astounding and enlightening. At least, that's one thing I got out of the book. The book also stands alone as an engaging adventure story with an incredible ending.

The book begins with Pi explaining his youth and his world view. He is a member of many religions and sees no contradictions. I enjoyed the treatment Pi gives to religion and to animals in the first part of the book. Some have found that portion slow, but I enjoyed it. Martel not only writes through some interesting ideas but his style and voice make the reading that much more enjoyable. Soon enough Pi is stuck on a life boat with a few dangerous animals, one of which is a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. (A fitting name--I recommend checking out the old British legal case which in part provided this name). What comes then is a nice long narrative of Pi's interactions with the Richard Parker and how they both come to depend on each other.

Unfortunately, because this book has become such a huge commercial success, some people deride it as unworthy of the Booker. After all, how can such a book that appeals to the masses be all that intelligent? To an extent, I understand this. Some of the book looks like it was written for shock value rather than to further along any underlying discussion. But the book is a lot of fun. Even some of the more unbelievable parts fit to make a mood of a classic adventure/survival story. In a way, this made it refreshing. This book is a worthy prize winner--one of the best in my opinion. And there is much embedded in it to recommend it even to those of us who expect challenging, provocative literature.
4 stars out of 5.

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