Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Book cover of Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The upcoming Life of Pi film is released on the 20th December in the UK and it looks absolutely amazing. See the trailer here if you’re interested (and you should be). The thing is, I knew even before I read the book that Life of Pi was a damned weird story to turn into a movie – it’s a boy on a a boat, generally musing about the fact that he is, in fact, on a boat. After reading the book? Yeah, I’m not that much wiser. 

Plot summary – One boy, one boat, one tiger …After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. 

A brief summary, you might think. Oddly enough, that is pretty much the entire story. That’s the reason why it’s such a strange book to base a film on and, although I hate to say it, the movie does look way more interesting than the novel. Basically, the ship carrying Pi and the animals belonging to his family’s zoo capsizes during a vicious storm and Pi survives – albeit on a small lifeboat with a hungry tiger. Not much happens as such. It’s hard to explain. Things happen but as a series of short, insignificant events lost in the overarching theme of loneliness at sea.

The problem with Life of Pi is that I didn’t particularly care about reading it. I was happy enough once I’d actually picked it up, but I just didn’t feel the urge to go back to it once I’d put it down. It seemed like way more of an effort than it should have. Now I’ve finished it, I feel profoundly apathetic, if such a thing is even possible.

I’m taking a blindfold to see this film. I do not like fish at the best of times – I’ve been known to have panic attacks in pet stores. Half-dead fish, in particular, terrify me. I understand that this means, should I ever be stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat, I will promptly die. I am okay with this as frankly, it would be the preferred cause of action. Therefore, I don’t particularly enjoy reading lists of the things that can be done to half-dead fish before they are eaten and I doubt more sane and logical readers would either. I’ve read a lot of gross and graphic books in my time, but this one really… ugh.

Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up. At such moments I tried to elevate myself.

I would touch the turban I had made with the remnants of my shirt and I would say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S HAT!”

I would pat my pants and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S ATTIRE!”

I would point to Richard Parker and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S CAT!”

I would point to the lifeboat and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S ARK!”

I would spread my hands wide and say aloud, “THESE ARE GOD’S WIDE ACRES!”

I would point at the sky and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S EAR!”

And in this way I would remind myself of creation and of my place in it.

It does have its good points, although generally they aren’t related to the story itself. It has quite a rambling ‘voice’ which works quite well – Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with only himself to really talk to, so he can go off on rambling tangents occasionally. It’s actually quite interesting – I learnt more about the running of a zoo and the habits of animals from Life of Pi than I did from We Bought A Zoo, and I adored that book. There are also pages and pages about the zoo debate from the pro-zoo side, which you don’t often come across in books.

The ending. Ohhhh dear. Looking through the Amazon reviews, it seems to be that either you love it or you hate it. It seemed like a bit of a cop-out to me, although I am curious how they’re going to pull it off in the film. I’m 85% certain that they’ll change it completely as, in my opinion, it defeats the purpose of the entire book. It was as if Yann Martel couldn’t quite figure out how to end it, so he tried to pull off a profound, clever thing… and missed.

As you’ll probably gather, I was less than impressed with Life of Pi. It was okay and I don’t resent the time I spent reading it, but I doubt I’ll ever feel the need to reread it. I will see the film (with afore-mentioned blindfold) because it still looks amazing, and who knows – maybe they’ve actually managed that mythical concept of improving a book!  

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  1. Ellie says:

    Hmmm, I've heard this a lot about The Life of Pi – that you either adore it or are decidely 'blah' about it, and that the movie's probably going to be awesome in comparison. BUT HOW CAN I WATCH IT IF I HAVEN'T READ IT?! *hyperventilates a tiny bit* Also, can I just say that I was in One Of Those Moods when I saw the trailer, and it was epic and the music was amazing even though it was Coldplay and there was water and a tiger and Profound Things happening, and I totally started crying. But that's allowable because of the EPICNESS, right? (Epicness? Epicity? Epicality?) Okay I'm done now. 🙂

    1. Hanna says:

      NO! I COMPLETELY get that! I haven't actually managed to watch it all the way through, as a Profound Wave of Something hits me and I have to turn it off before I get sucked under! I thought it was just me being crazy…

  2. Laura says:

    Hmmmmmmmmm… I've been looking at Life of Pi on my bookshelf for a while now, and I'm kind of like 'I sort of don't want to read it. But I might one day. I think I'll keep it' but if you think it's not so hot, I'm totally tempted to give it away. Hmmmmmmmm…

    1. Hanna says:

      I'm giving away my copy. I guess you might have a burning urge to read it after seeing the film though, so maybe see how you feel then?

      I kind of want to say 'Yes, Laura! Give it away!' but then I'm scared you'll end up loving it and resent me forever… *cringes*

    2. Laura says:

      Naaaaw, don't worry about that! I should have added that I don't even really want to see the film! The advert doesn't really do anything for me, possibly because of Coldplay (I nearly just put Codplay, which would be a WEIRD band name!) and the fact that I kind of think it looks stupid.

      And if I think that about the film… OK, Life of Pi goes!! (don't worry, I won't resent you! Other than for your dislike of The Gunslinger… loljk I kind of don't really like it either! Other than for what it leads to…)

      So many of these … and I don't even know why!

    3. Hanna says:

      Haha, 'Codplay' made me snort. It would be more appropriate for this film though, I tell you. I didn't actually recognise it as Coldplay though because I'm USELESS with music.

      I'll read the second Dark Tower book next year, I swear!

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