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Life of Pi: A Novel    by Yann Martel order for
Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Order:  USA  Can
Harvest, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by David Pitt

The Booker Prize has always been one of my least favourite literary awards. I've read a lot of the nominees and winners over the years, and I've found many of them awkward, or artsy-fartsy, or boring, or literary to the point of exasperation.

Life of Pi, by Montreal's Yann Martel, is a Booker nominee (winners will be announced later in October). It's the story of a fellow with the unfortunate name of Piscine Molitor Patel; 'I was named after a swimming pool,' he tells us. Anyway, sixteen-year-old Pi has a lot of strange and wondrous things happen to him, including getting himself lost at sea with, if you can believe it, a tiger. The story starts out weird, gets positively surreal, and then just gets ... ridiculous.

That's the problem with the novel: it's very well written, with delicate character sketches and sharp narrative passages, but it's just way too far over the top. What could and should have been a light, entertaining, slightly offbeat tall tale becomes, well, silly. Too silly.

There are a lot of books I don't like, but this one particularly disappointed me. It's something I could very much have enjoyed, if it had been written differently. If Martel had only reined in his imagination a little, kept the story from soaring as high into the world of fantasy as it does, I might have left the book with a smile and a chuckle ... instead of the frown I'm currently sporting.

Review by Marian Powell:

This is a book that is impossible to classify. It focuses on a boy named Pi growing up in India, begins with an amusing tale about his name and his life as the son of a zookeeper, and then goes on to his discovery of religion. At the age of 14, he happily becomes a Hindu, a Christian and a Moslem all at the same time.

The story changes when his family leaves India, is shipwrecked and Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a full-grown Bengal tiger. Pi has to decide what to do with the tiger. He is utterly terrified and wants to kill it but then slowly comes to another solution. The book goes on, sometimes grimly realistic as a survival story, sometimes fantastic, leaving open the possibility that it was all a hallucination.

I found, in a book discussion group, that most of us had the experience of finding parts of the book impossible to put down and other parts almost impossible to read - only we didn't agree on which parts we liked and disliked. In the end, Life of Pi sparked a whole series of discussions, ranging from zookeeping, to survival at sea, to the nature of God. That's pretty good for one novel.

This is a book impossible to classify but wonderful to ponder and discuss with friends. I highly recommend it, as long as you know going in that you will go on a very strange journey when you read it.

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