Okay, I don't read a lot of adventurous-type novels, so Life of Pi by Yann Martel was new for me. The story is about a man (Pi) who grew up in India and then tried to move with his family (and the animals from their zoo) to Canada by boat. When the boat sinks, Pi is stuck on a lifeboat with a few animals--no other lifeboats or humans in sight. He must learn how to survive the Pacific Ocean without drowning or being eaten.
First Impression: I expected it to start with a BANG! and just be on a go-go-go path speeding ever faster toward a climax, but this was not the case. The beginning of Martel's novel feels a little like a Michael Crichton book--there's some random scientific information and a slight sense of depressive foreboding. It starts in medias res (in the middle of things), which would be fine, but it jumps around in a way that just makes things confusing.
Conclusion: The reason the story starts out in a confusing way is because it is told as an afterthought. It is written as a fictional memoir, introducing readers to the main character as a child--through flashbacks of certain events and important days in his life--in the first part before addressing the main focus of the novel--Pi's survival on the ocean--in the second part. Pi's first week on the Pacific Ocean is a quick succession of events. The animals battle for survival, and Pi figures out the physical and emotional restrictions of his situation. Over time, he adjusts to his situation and spends seven arduous months at sea before finally landing in Mexico.
The spiritual insights early in the book remind me a little of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, which is about a man who travels many places and "tries out" many different religions and paths of thought before settling into his own accepted truth. The narrator discusses Pi's first encounters with several religions and how they affected his final belief. I felt that Pi's connection to faith made the latter parts of the story very interesting. This is one point where you can really see how well Martel writes, because no matter what happens, the main character stays true to himself. He is a unique and thorough character, and his faults as well as his strengths are on display throughout the novel.
Toward the end of the novel, there is a twist that gives the whole story a bitter aftertaste. Without revealing anything, all I can say is that the novel is very good, but it ends on a bittersweet note. Be forewarned: this is not for the faint of heart. There is unexpected (at least by me) brutality in this book. These parts stay true to the situation, but they are difficult to read. That being said, I'm glad I read the book. I probably would not have picked this out myself--I read it for a book group I'm in--but it was an interesting and unique read, and I actually learned a lot of basic information about animals, which is pretty cool.