Summary and Analysis
Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is a story within a story. The “frame” of the novel involves the true narrator, The Author, a novelist who while living in India is told an incredible story. This first, small section introduces the idea of the book and also solidifies the first part of the novel’s frame. Its first-person narrator is a novelist who is trying to escape the failure of his second published novel—and his second failure to produce a third novel at all. A Canadian who has travelled to Bombay, India, to work on a book about Portugal, he has a conversation with Francis Adirubasamy, who promises to connect him with a man—Pi Patel—who has a story that will make him “believe in God.” The Author takes the bait and meets with Pi in Toronto, Canada. The Author then briefly describes the experience of meeting Pi and being told Pi’s amazing story, as well as his decision to write it as a novel. He outlines how he decided what kind of style and point of view to use, and expresses great affection and gratitude for Pi.
Because an author’s note is a traditional literary device—in which a book’s author briefly addresses his or her readers before proceeding to the main text—readers at first might believe that the “voice” of the note is Yann Martel’s. In fact, the narrator of the author’s note seems to have a background that is similar, if not identical, to Martel’s. However, as the novel continues, The Author becomes more and more of a character, intruding with both brief and lengthy passages to explain his ongoing relationship with Pi and his experience of listening to Pi’s story. Eventually, readers realize that The Author is a fictional character who is relating a fictional experience.
The Author’s Note adds an interesting element to the entire tone of the novel. First-person narrators, as a literary rule, are unreliable. Any person who is directly recounting his or her experiences will embellish, forget, lie, and misremember, and cannot be counted on for “truth.” The presence of The Author—who is telling the story as it was told to him, for the purpose of writing a novel—creates a layer of fallibility. It elevates the story to the level of a fairy tale or parable and allows the literary text to become whatever is needed to communicate both events and beliefs about philosophy, religion, adventure, entertainment, and miracles.