Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Life of Pi sells 3,141,593 copies, and counting …

There's every reason why Yann Martel's irrational novel has been catapulted back into the bestseller charts

Thursday 21 February 2013
Suraj Sharma as Piscine Molitor Patel adrift with the Bengal tiger, Richard Parker
Calculating the odds? Suraj Sharma as Piscine Molitor Patel adrift with the Bengal tiger Richard Parker in the film of Yann Martel's novel. Photograph: Fox/Everett/Rex

"My name is Piscine Molitor Patel," says Yann Martel's hero firmly, "known to all as – I double underlined the first two letters of my given name – Pi Patel. For good measure I added pi = 3.14 and I drew a large circle, which I then sliced in two with a diameter, to evoke that basic lesson of geometry."
Martel's narrator, who chooses his mathematical nickname to avoid being known as "Pissing", would undoubtedly be delighted at the news that the novel he narrates, Life of Pi, has just sold its 3,141,593rd copy for its British publisher Canongate – an extraordinary feat for a novel published only 10 years ago. Of course, given that pi is an irrational number, Life of Pi has not, in fact, sold exactly pi copies. "That's one thing I hate about my nickname, the way that number runs on forever," says Pi – though Canongate probably wouldn't be averse to the ideas of sales rolling on forever without end.
Pi's story sees the teenager adrift in a boat with a a 450-pound royal Bengal tiger. It won Martel the Booker prize in 2002, and has been catapulted back to the top of the bestseller charts by the release of Ang Lee's film back in December. "That sales figure – it's so irrational!" said Martel of the news.
Martel's novel is one of many with a number in the title. The chance to crow about Nineteen Eighty-Four is long gone, sadly, ditto 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but will Canongate's canny observation prompt a slew of announcements from publishers of similarly numerical novels?

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