Books Magazine

Book Review: 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel

By Richardl @richardlittleda

More than 3.14

One year after his epic poetic adventure ‘Life of Pi’ was published, author Yann Martel said the following in an interview about it:

“I was sort of looking for a story, not only with a small ‘s’ but sort of with a capital ‘S’ – something that would direct my life.”

As an enduring advocate of the power of story, I cannot but agree with him. Stories are, indeed, powerful things. Not only that, but they can wend their way under the surface of cultures, like a hidden river boxed in under the built-up splendour of a city – before emerging in unexpected places.

As I sat in a hospital ward today reading ‘Life of  Pi’ I was transported back over twenty years to the time when I was studying Medieval French Texts. The Voyage de St Brendan, with its enduring ocean quest and its fantastical adventures, bore many similarities to Martel’s tale so many centuries later.

Where Martel wins out, for me, is his lyrical expression – gilding the most everyday things with the gold of a poet’s touch:

  • It was my luck to have a few good teachers in my youth, men and women who came into my dark head and lit a match
  • To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation

There are also moments where religion meets philosophy meets reality in a Jackson Pollock-esque explosion of colour:

  • The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart
  • No thundering from a pulpit, no condemnation from bad churches, no peer pressure, just a book of scripture quietly waiting to say hello, as gentle and powerful as a little girl’s kiss on your cheek.
  • This beach, so soft, firm and vast, was like the cheek of God, and somewhere two eyes were glittering with pleasure and a mouth was smiling at having me there

Last word must go, though, to this description of the story within the story.

I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.

If, like me, you are coming late to the Pi party, be prepared for a story which may well make you see differently. As I said to someone the other day ‘why think outside the box when you can stand on top of it for a better view?’

Try Pi – its a lot more than 3.14

Story with a big S



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