Book review: Life of Pi

19:00, Dec 19 2012

Someone stole my copy of Life of Pi, or they never returned it, which amounts to roughly the same thing. So now all I have is the Kindle version, which is arse-all use when someone asks to borrow it.

It makes me feel slightly mournful because Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, is one of those novels that are so great to lend out. You want your bibliophile friends to read it so you can have lingering, thought-provoking discussions over wine and cheese afterwards.

I know the movie has just come out - it's what prompted this review - but this is one of those films where you'd benefit from reading the book first. I don't believe this of all book-turned-movies, but in this case, there are so many shades and nuances to Life of Pi that it is worth digging into the story in detail before you watch the highlights on film.

And movies made from books are necessarily a highlights reel, otherwise we'd just be stuck at the cinema for nine hours getting bored.

So Life of's about this boy called Piscine Molitor Patel, "Pi" for short. Pi, of course, also references the mathematical symbol, which is an irrational number. Not even mathematicians (and I'm definitely not one, I can barely add) fully understand how pi works, a little bit like the book - it's two-thirds mysterious and one-third zen.

The plot is quite basic and on the surface, sounds charmingly childish. Pi is marooned on a lifeboat after a shipwreck with a bunch of zoo animals - his family owned a zoo in India. With no keepers to watch over them and no fences, the animals revert to nature and start to prey on each other. Just like Jurassic Park.


But the twist in the tale is that after Pi tells the story, he then tells another version, this time without animals, and you're left wondering which one is true. More important, which one it is that you choose to believe in.

The book is a rumination about the power of belief systems when it comes to god and world creation, one that even atheists will appreciate because this is no zealot's text pushing one form of religion over another. Instead, it approaches life's Big Questions with delicacy and intricacy, leaving the answers in the reader's hands.

I remember reading Life of Pi for the first time when I was barely out of high school. I had all the usual angst of a very young lady grappling with emotions and issues far too complicated for someone with, then, so little life experience. The book offered me comfort when I needed it, and I think that's one of its key strengths.

Life of Pi is a puzzle box with an infinite number of solutions. How you choose to put the pieces together is up to you.

Have you read Life of Pi? What did you think of it?

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