Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Analysis: POV/Narrative Voice
First Person (Peripheral Narrator), First Person (Central Narrator)
Martel chooses a very complex point of view for Life of Pi. Or rather, multiple points of view. We start out in First Person (Central Narrator) Land – meaning, the guy speaking is telling his own story. This is the book's "author." He's sad, but then he comes across Pi's story. As the "Author's Note" continues, we realize, "Oh, this is not going to be about the author but about another guy named Pi Patel." OK. That would mean a First Person (Peripheral Narrator) since our narrator will tell us Pi's story.
But before we can get too comfortable, a strange thing happens. With Pi's permission, the narrator relates Pi's story to us as if he were Pi. The majority of the book happens from Pi's point of view as retold by the author, who, we should state, is a character in the book. Every now and again, the author comments on Pi's story, presumably to remind us that he's still there. We end up with a hybrid of First Person (Peripheral Narrator) and First Person (Central Narrator) since the author, who is not Pi, tells the story as if he is Pi. Pretty clever, right?
You may ask: "My brain just melted. What's the point?" Well, Martel wants, more than anything, to communicate the power of fiction. He wants to remind of us of the presence – everywhere around us – of fiction. He does this, partly, through a complex point of view. By having the author interject every now and again, Martel reminds us that what we're hearing is not fact but a story. And not just someone's story, but someone's story told by someone else. However, like good readers – and because Martel can spin a dang good yarn – we fall right back into Pi's story. We even forget, at times, that we're not listening directly to Pi.
Martel wants to expose the following conundrum: even if you gave the "straight facts" of your life, you'd only be telling a version of it. It would probably be less beautiful, and, strangely enough, it might even be a less truthful version.