Life of Pi by Yann Martell

What a great book! It started of a bit iffy though. The writing was poor, but fresh and somehow innocently charming. It made me laugh, but even so I couldn’t seem to look beyond Martell’s “orange Thumbs Up” and his Sufi Mr. Kumar. I thought it was a poorly researched piece of writing. A foreigner using India for exotica. I still think that, since the start of the book could have been set anywhere for all the difference it made to the rest of the book.
The rest of the book is a pure pleasure to read though. When he ends up on the lifeboat, I expected the worst of magic realism to spew forth from the author but he wrote with remarkable restraint. I like books with very stark settings. A lifeboat, a tiger and the Pacific does that quite well. And without the help of a single fantasy element, Yann Martell tells a wonderful story with many levels. Pi is alone on a lifeboat with a tiger, but instead of despairing he learns to control his elements. He uses all his ingenuity to keep himself and the tiger alive. He walks a fine tightrope between providing the tiger with food and being food himself. Out there in the middle of the Pacific, he trains a tiger to obey him. There has been no finer setting for a story in recent years, I say! One day, he goes blind and his lifeboat bumps into the lifeboat of another person, also blind, in the middle of the Pacific. Richard Parker eats him. Yann Martell waited till well into the second half of the book to spring what is perhaps the book’s only wildly fantastic story. It was very nicely done.
The start of the book talked a lot about God, but the end doesn’t speak much about him. When Pi becomes all four religions in the start I thought it might lead to some heavy-hitting theology later on in the book, but fortunately for me, that never happens. It would have been boring.
All in all a very satisfying book. Leaves one with a gentle smile, though somehow I doubt we’ll see much more from Yann Martell.