Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The Life of Pi has had a life of its own since its release in 2001. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2002, has been considered for a film adaptation by various directors (ultimately will be directed by Ang Lee and released in 3D in 2011), and has been a featured read in thousands of book clubs. With Martel's recent release of Beatrice and Virgil, interest in Pi has been renewed - Barnes & Noble was actually sold out a couple of weeks ago. I originally read this book in 2002 and enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised when my book club chose it as the May read, and decided to give it a try on audio this go around.
Even though it feels like half the world has already read this book, I won't assume anything. The story is one about a boy named Pi Patel. He recounts the story of his life in India, one that was primarily spent around the zoo which his parents owned and ran. Pi also took an early interest in religions, and because of his love of all Gods, ultimately practiced Muslim, Hindu and Christianity simultaneously. Due to political unrest, Pi's family sells the zoo, and with some of their animals, boarded a cargo ship for Canada. The ship sinks en route, and Pi spends 227 days on a life raft, fighting to survive.
This is when the story takes a surreal turn. Pi tells about how a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker, were also on the boat with him. Not a compatible group, you might say. After the circle of life applies itself, Pi is left to co-exist with the tiger, catching fish and turtles and rainwater to survive. He briefly stops at an uninhabited, toxic island, before he eventually finds himself on a beach in Mexico. Richard Parker disembarks, never to be seen again. Investigators don't buy the story, so Pi tells them another, more disturbing one. We are left to choose which one we believe and prefer.
There are endearing aspects of the book that all came back to me as I listened to the story unfold. Pi is an alluring character, a kid like no other - precocious, intelligent, bright-eyed. I found his innocent embrace of all Gods and faith in higher powers enchanting. Being an animal-lover, I was also entertained by the details of animal behavior. This is not a fast-paced story however. It is very slow and deliberate, and I began to feel restless. I know how it ends, after all. Because I was aware of the "twist" at the conclusion of the book, I found myself adrift (pun sorta intended!). It did allow me to analyze the story with a different perspective, but it wasn't enough to keep me engaged.
As you all know, I am a walking endorsement for audio books. But this is not one I would recommend. The narrator had a pleasant Indian accent, and seemed to do his best with the prose, but it was not one that translated well to the ears. I will be in line when the movie premiers, however, with high expectations from a director like Lee.
Unfortunately, because my husband was out of town, I was unable to attend the book club to discuss Pi. This is the first book club I've missed since I began attending, and I'm sorry it had to be this one. The discussions would have been interesting!
First time reading: 4 out of 5
Second time reading: 3 out of 5