Tuesday 7th March saw Yann Martel beam in from Canada to speak to the Hundred about his Man Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi. With this novel acting as one of our GCSE Literature set texts, it was an incredible opportunity for us to find out more about the author, his inspirations and the meaning of certain parts of the story that we struggled to interpret.
The talk began with Martel briefly explaining how Life of Pi came to be. He discussed his writing style which, like Pi, was not at all spontaneous and instead very orderly, with 100 envelopes containing his meticulously planned content for each chapter. Martel also detailed the origins of the intersection between religion and zoology – a theme which can be found throughout the book – explaining that, during his stay in India, he found the presence of animals within temples deeply fascinating due to no such link existing in western culture.
Questions were then invited from the audience, with one of the main focuses being on the ‘algae island’ and its significance. In the novel, it is described in surreal terms and thus begs the question of whether it actually ‘existed’. Martel explained that this was intentional and designed to be a captivating part of the story which would push the limits of what the reader believed to be true. It, therefore, served as a device to foreshadow the revelation of the alternative story by casting some doubt as to whether what we were reading was true or not.
This naturally prompted us to ask Martel which story was ‘real’ and which he preferred, leading him to discuss one of the core themes of the book. He explained that everyone in the audience had read the same book, but that some of us might have hated it; others thought it was ok; and some would have loved it. Regardless of these different feelings towards the novel, it was always the same artwork, and Martel used this to explain that we, as readers, bring as much to the story as he does as the author. Just like the ambiguity of the algae island, it doesn’t matter what Martel intended for us to believe or experience – what matters is how we understand and interpret what we are reading.