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A reader's guide to The Life Of Pi

Updated Thursday, 1st November 2007

A modern take on Robinson Crusoe, or a skewed reworking of Calvino? Join us as we float Yann Martell's novel.

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Reviewers of Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’ have drawn comparisons with several classic texts. Margaret Atwood referred to its ‘noteworthy ancestors’, citing ‘Robinson Crusoe’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘The Ancient Mariner’, ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Pincher Martin’. Elsewhere links have been made to Joseph Conrad and Salman Rushdie, and to Italo Calvino’s ‘Our Ancestors’.

Martel’s adventure story has been variously classed as a fable, or an allegory about faith, or an example of ‘magic realism’.

Boats at Pondicherry on the Bay of Bengal
Boats at Pondicherry on the Bay of Bengal [Image: 24th Century under CC-BY-NC-SA licence]

Despite the weighty comparisons and the repeated attempts to pigeon-hole the novel, critics have also acknowledged its striking originality.

The author has explained how ‘Life of Pi’ came to be written. In the spring of 1996 his second book was published in Canada, but did not attract much attention.

After commencing a novel set in Portugal, he decided to travel to India. In a Coffee House in Pondicherry, Martel chatted to an elderly man who intrigued him with a tantalizing claim: "I have a story that will make you believe in God." Martel jettisoned his current project, and turned his attention to a new tale…..

I have a story that will make you believe in God

Piscine Molitor Patel's father runs the local zoo in Pondicherry. The zoo closes and the family members decide to emigrate to Canada, accompanied by animals.

After a shipwreck, Pi is left drifting on the Pacific with a hyena, an orang-utan, a zebra and a Royal Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker!

Fresh and funny, playful, imaginative, moving and uplifting, this text won the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.


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