A fantasy novel written in the style of a documentary narrative: that does the book a great injustice. Although the germ came from an earlier work about a man at sea with a leopard, this book is a work of great and unique imagination. The clever attempts to make the reader believe this is a true story lend the tale a veracity that would be diminished had it been written simply as a conventional novel.
Much that happens is, of course, incredible. The comment that the book will make even an atheist believe in God, along with the stated distrust of agnostics, struck a chord with me, since I am that agnostic, and proudly so. And, for the record, whether intended or not, it certainly didn’t convince me that there is a god.
The plight of the protagonist, the description of his early life in India with his eccentric parents and odd upbringing, lead the reader to empathise in surprising ways. The courage and inventiveness of the young man, his tenacity, his honesty and his duplicity make for internal contrasts that enliven the whole tale. It becomes difficult to determine what is ‘true’, what is the product of his imagination as he attempts to remain both sane and alive in a perilous situation, what is illusion or mirage, and what is sheer invention on his behalf.
There’s humour here, inspiration, some subtle education and a great deal of entertainment on many levels. The author has gone to considerable lengths to understand the difficulties a boy in a lifeboat in the Pacific might face. He’s researched his biology and botany well, and gives a good account of the nature of the tiger and the other animals that feature. He makes an impassioned plea for the support of zoos and drives a wonderful stake through the heart of divisions that make religions enemies of each other and of some of those who have no faith.
The story is engaging, fascinating, moving, terrifying, bizarre and extraordinary. If you like your fiction to surprise and delight, to undermine and provoke, then you will enjoy this novel. I did, and I thoroughly recommend it.