My favourite Montreal book...

Life of Pi

By Diana McNeil

A review of by

Published on January 1, 2006

Life of Pi is not set in Montreal, nor does it contain one reference to the city. In fact it has several settings: India, a lifeboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and some imaginary places. However, I believe that despite his international upbringing and his yen to travel, Yann Martel still calls Montreal home. Perhaps it is even his emotional centre.

I read Life of Pi while high in the Kootenay Mountains in central British Columbia. Comfortable and warm in a log cabin, I read for long uninterrupted periods while the rest of my group was off skiing. I could look out the large windows onto the steep walls of the valley and up to the sunlit peaks. It was so peaceful, the perfect environment for enjoying a good book – but not a page-turning mystery where you gallop to the end. Martel’s style made me want to read every sentence and not rush the moment. His prose is clean and his choice of words is thoughtful.

Martel writes with humour and a good deal of humanity. Once he begins the adventure of Pi on the lifeboat with the tiger Richard Parker, I became as engaged as I did when I read as a child. Is Life of Pi a fanciful tale of a tiger and a boy, or is it more than that? No matter, I was captivated.

The provocative ending encourages the reader to consider two ways to end the story. It works because the story itself is so original that a fairy tale ending would be off the mark. But the sadness I felt when I got to the last page wasn’t so much because Pi and Richard Parker’s story was over – and what a great story it is in the old-fashioned sense – but that my experience was over. I could no longer savour the beautiful prose and I had to leave behind that fictional world. I had to step away and wean myself off the book. So it was doubly sad when the week ended because I had finished Life of Pi and I had to ski down to the valley – to the real world. mRb

Ever since getting her first library card at the age of seven, Diana McNeill has had her nose in a book. For her working life, she feels lucky to have had book-related jobs in the Canadian publishing industry as well as in bookstores, and, between 1995 and 2003, as co-ordinator of the Quebec Writers' Federation.

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