Life of Pi walks a precarious line between realism and surrealism. For the most part, the book does well with both. Having won the Man Booker Prize in 2012 and being adapted into a motion picture in 2002 by the very accomplished director Ang Lee, Life of Pi is supposed to be great, a classic even. And it's pretty good, but I wouldn't consider it a classic.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I saw the film before I read the book. Seeing the film first, of course, removed a great deal of the mystery of the story, which is ironic for a story that stresses heavily the themes of faith, knowledge, and reason. In my case, "knowing" too much diminished the experience of "believing" the story. The pay-off of Life of Pi is surprising and thought provoking, but just like other stories that rely on a big reveal at the end, once you've seen it or read it once then the impact is greatly reduced. Furthermore, I thought the film adaptation was terribly heavy handed in its explanation of what happened and who was who. It was reminiscent, in a very bad way, of the end of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy looks around the room and says: "And you were there, and you, and you." Surprisingly, the book does essentially the same thing. It's clunky and uninspired and could have been done so much better.
Yann Martel is a talented writer but not on every page. In fact, the first 100 pages were filled with wonderful phrases and memorable prose. Yet, once Piscine finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with his bizarre menagerie, the writing feels very different. There are pockets of artistry sprinkled throughout its pages, but I was hoping the author would have shown a more interesting perspective throughout the duration of the entire book.
Life of Pi is a good book, but I didn't find it to be a great one. The film, which I may have more to say about in a different post, had its own value and problems. Even though I didn’t love Life of Pi, I can at least be a part of the conversation if it ever comes up. (Granted, I’m a little late to the party).
Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Heart of Darkness
Reflections: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
3 Reasons Why We Need and Love Stories