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.