This was one of those books I heard people talking about seven or eight years ago and I kept meaning to get around to it. Though after I read Martel's first novel "Self" I was less inclined to read this because that novel was so boring that it routinely put me to sleep. But eventually I found a copy of this for a really low price so I figured I might as well do it.
I started to regret that decision during the first 150 pages. Like "Self" these pages are so dull. Mostly they concern Pi Patel as he tries different religions like an Indian version of "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret." This might have been interesting if you haven't read any fiction about India before but I've read Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" and John Irving's "Son of the Circus" which were both far more interesting in terms of Indian culture. Then too there was also the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" that also dealt with India and its religious divisions.
So all of that made those first 150 pages a chore to plow through. I kept wondering, "When are we getting to the shipwreck with the tiger?" That's the hook for this novel isn't it? Boy in a lifeboat with a tiger?
Well it finally happened once Pi's father decides to move his family to Canada to escape the Idira Gandhi regime. The ship they're on with most of the animals from their little zoo in India--to be sold to American/Canadian zoos--sinks shortly after leaving the Philippines.
The crew throws Pi into a lifeboat, where soon he finds that he's sharing space with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger! That's a lot of animals to cram into what's described as one hundred square feet. Actually I have serious doubts that you could hide a tiger under a tarp in that small amount of space.
Anyway (spoiler alert!) it eventually ends up with just Pi and the tiger as they cross the Pacific Ocean. The book at this point deals mostly with Pi's struggle to survive. Not only to find food and water, but also to deal with his boatmate, the tiger named Richard Parker. It's a constant struggle, one that forces Pi to compromise many of his religious beliefs, such as his aversion to eating meat.
This was where the book came to life and became much more interesting. Though the problem with being on a lifeboat is that there's a limit to just how much you can do. With "Robinson Crusoe" or "Lord of the Flies" or even "Gilligan's Island" where the main character(s) is marooned on an island, there's far more you can do because you have a whole island to explore. That makes far more potential for adventure than a boat floating on the water, where essentially everything has to come to you.
For the most part Martel manages to make this interesting with the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker. Then there are strange incidents like meeting another lifeboat or the mysterious island they come upon.
Although what I think is missing is more about his spiritual state. A couple of times he says it brings him closer to God, though which one? Since he believes in the Christian God, Allah, and all the Hindu gods, which one(s) is he getting closer to? Or maybe there's just one ubergod?
The ending is also a little disappointing and mildly offensive with the vaudevillian act between Pi and a pair of Japanese shipping company officers. So basically everything off the lifeboat is far less interesting than everything on the lifeboat. Maybe they should have stayed on the boat.
That is all.