Although its themes are serious and there are moments of awful graphic violence and bleak despair, it is above all a book about life’s absurdities that makes one laugh out loud on almost every page, with its quirky juxtapositions, comparisons, metaphors, Borgesian puzzles, postmodern games and a sense of fun that reflects the hero’s sensual enjoyment of the world … Martel is also interested in the faith of his readers. He wants them to believe his story. He has his narrator pose a larger, Keatsian ‘beauty is truth’ argument against the glorification of reason, ‘that fool’s gold for the bright.’ It’s as if he were suggesting that storytelling is a kind of religious experience because it helps us understand the world in a more profound way than a just-the-facts approach … Though one can read Life of Pi just for fun, trying to figure out Pi’s relationship to God makes one feel a bit like the castaway hero wrestling slippery fish into his lifeboat for dinner. An idea twists and turns, glittering and gleaming, slaps you in the face with its tail and slips away. Did the story really happen?
Although Life of Pi works remarkably well on the pure adrenaline-and-testosterone level of a high-seas adventure tale, it's apparent that Martel is not interested in simply retelling the classic lifeboat-survival story. Pi, after all, is a practitioner of three major religions who also happens to have a strong background in science; with such a broad résumé, his story inevitably takes on the quality of a parable. … He writes with a playful and discursive casualness, but that doesn't prevent him from delivering some arresting descriptions … In the book's final chapters, just when many novels are winding down to their foregone conclusions, Martel gives Life of Pi an intriguing twist.
Life of Pi is proud to be a delegate for magic realism, and wears a big badge so that we don’t forget it … Martel proves, by skilful example, that realism is narrative’s great master, that it schools even its own truants. He reminds us in fact that realism is already magical, an artifice-in-waiting … Survivor yarns, like prison stories, gain their narrative power from the fetishising of the minimal...Notwithstanding the presence of a tiger, or rather because of the presence of a tiger, Martel labours to reproduce for us the daily struggle of Pi’s existence … [Life of Pi] is a novel about our capacity to believe, the jacket promises – only to bury this notion in the softer and more cosily recessed questions of storytelling and credulity.
Life of Pi struck me as a startlingly original work, not easily slotted into any known category. Not only that -- it breaks virtually every rule of modern fiction-writing and gets away with it … There is no doubt that Martel has magic in him, for he alternately charms and shocks, seduces and repels in a way that makes his novel quite addictive … Why [Pi’s] philosophical pronouncements don't clang like cowbells is a bit of a mystery, but surely it attests to Martel's grace, skill and charm in getting his ideas across and making his main character likable … It's interesting to speculate on what the tiger might symbolize: human aggression? The dark side of the soul? Or could this be a parable to illustrate our need to embrace the seemingly primitive in ourselves, which is, after all, the primal source of life?
Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi is the literary version of a large, friendly dog; hardly has it committed some mild offense than it rebounds with such enthusiasm, impishness and charm that one promptly forgives it … Despite its constant episodes of tragedy and suffering, the story is written with a lightness and humor that gives it the quality of a fairy tale … All incidents take place in a kind of vacuum, and in the hands of a lesser craftsman, they would seem scattershot and random. What draws us on is not plot in any chronological sense but rather the profound, infectious sense of wonder that runs the length of the book.
Martel frames the novel as the reminiscences of an older Pi as recorded by the author and intermittently offers his own observations of this curious Indian man. The device works: Martel is so mesmerized by Pi that one can’t help but be enchanted too … Pi’s story is so extraordinary that when he finally makes it ashore, he offers a comparatively boring version of the tale to two researchers, acknowledging that humans don’t have much of a taste for the miraculous. This played-down version makes Pi’s true tale, thanks to Martel’s beautifully fantastical and spirited rendering, all the more tempting to believe.
Life of Pi is full of fierce but friendly storytelling energy. It's a real adventure: brutal, tender, expressive, dramatic and disarmingly funny … As Pi somehow finds the resources to sustain his life, Martel finds the wherewithal to sustain the spirit and vitality of his narration. The sense that this is not a coincidence provides much of the book's delight … One might infer plenty of influences from the author's mannerisms, but his creed is his own: Martel puts his faith in the act of storytelling.
A fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning, despairing and resilient, this novel is an impressive achievement—‘a story that will make you believe in God,’ as one character says … Martel's potentially unbelievable plot line soon demolishes the reader's defenses, cleverly set up by events of young Pi's life that almost naturally lead to his biggest ordeal … Martel displays the clever voice and tremendous storytelling skills of an emerging master.