Book Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Paperback (movie tie-in edition)

Review copy provided by publisher

Allen & Unwin, October 2012

 Synopsis- After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound royal bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.

 Review-  Winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize, Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a book I’ve heard mixed reviews about for many years. I love stories set in India and about Indians because I like the richness of their culture, the wonder and outlook on life.

The protagonist in Life of Pi is sixteen-year-old Piscine Molitor Patel from Pondicherry, India. He changes his name to Pi because he tires of being called “Pissing.” His father owns the Pondicherry zoo and so Pi has plenty of exposure to animal behaviour that comes in handy when he ends up stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific with a hyena, an injured zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Adrift for 227 days, Life of Pi tells the story of how a young Indian boy survived against all odds. It’s an unusually structured book, with the first part feeling like an entirely different book to the next two. I feel the first section could have been weaved throughout the story as it seemed like a big dumping of information and I had to look at the back cover blurb a couple of times to remind myself what on earth the book was supposed to be about.

The first part of the book introduces Pi as a youngster growing up around all the animals at the zoo. He provides much insight into animal behaviour and though at times I felt I was in a lecture on animal psychology, I did enjoy reading about this aspect of his life. Partway through this section Pi’s Hindu religious beliefs are expanded with his learning of Christianity and Islam. This was probably the part of the book I liked the least, not because it was focused on religion but because it didn’t really seem to serve a purpose for the rest of the book.

The second part of the book, the shipwreck, was where I really started to gain interest in the story. The tension was particularly high at this stage and I was turning the pages quickly- partly because I wanted to know how much worse the situation could get and partly because I hoped that things would improve. The slow mutilation of the zebra by the hyena had me feeling sick in the stomach and just made me so angry. It was as though the hyena was some crazy lunatic killing his victim at his pleasure. At the same time I felt angry at Pi- just a scared teenage boy- because I wanted him to do something for this poor injured creature. If I was to go into psychoanalytic mode, I’d say I was experiencing a serious case of countertransference; I felt just as helpless and terrified as Pi.

The remainder of the animals on the lifeboat didn’t fare much better, with just Richard Parker and Pi remaining after the first week or so. The relationship that ensues between the tiger and Pi is very fascinating. Though I was led to believe from the synopsis that they share some kind of bond, I think in truth they really just adapted to the situation in order to survive. Pi’s animal behaviourist knowledge came in handy then and I quite liked how he went about ‘training’ Richard Parker and marking his territory.

There’s an undertone of satire in Life of Pi which I enjoyed and added a little wisdom to this teenage boy’s outlook on predicament. It’s really an adventure story and if it not for the interaction between the boy and the animals I’d probably not have lasted the entire book. I don’t feel like I really go to know Pi.

The ending completely threw me. When he was eventually rescued and interviewed I wondered whether I really had any idea of what was going on in the first place! The alternative hypothesis of his experience that was presented completely surprised me. And because I was so ‘sure’ of what I’d read and viewed through Pi’s eyes I wanted to believe that the story he told was the truth. However, when I closed the book I realised I didn’t really know what the ‘truth’ was and it took me a couple of days to accept that uncertainty.

Life of Pi won’t make one of my favourite books for 2012, but I am glad I read it because it certainly made me think. I also pondered how I would handle being lost at sea with a bunch of fierce animals!

Overall Rating


“I really liked this”

Life of Pi can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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