If you want fiction that challenges you, that has you exploring alternative meanings and questioning reality then look no further than this list of books like Life of Pi. Classed as a philosophical novel exploring religion and the effects of trauma, the art (and importance) of storytelling is also at the heart of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel.
Life of Pi tells the story of Pi Patel, a young Indian boy who loses his entire zoo-keeping family to the ocean when the ship they were sailing on from India to Canada sinks. We learn how he endured 227 days lost at sea with only a Bengal tiger for company, by drawing on his faith and survival instincts.
Pi’s story is framed by notes from the author which unusually describe completely fictitious events, strengthening this concept surrounding the relativity of truth and how we perceive the stories we are told, which ultimately has us questioning Pi’s version of events.
Books like Life of Pi can just be enjoyed for their imaginative story lines, but to explore the undertones in these novels is also a fruitful exploit as you never know what else you might discover.
Books like Life of Pi
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
As with a lot of the books like Life of Pi, there is ambiguity surrounding what exactly the author might have been trying to say through their novels or whether they were trying to say anything at all. A prime example of this is The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, a novel whose possible meanings have been greatly contested over the years.
On one reading, it is a bizarre story about a salesman (Gregor Samsa), who turns into a grotesque insect overnight and is ostracised by his family. On another, the plot acts as a vehicle representing alienation and loneliness, on another Kafka’s alleged father complex can be interpreted, while other critics allude to religious and psychological connotations.
Yet despite this conflict of opinion, The Metamorphosis is one of the most widely read novels of 20th Century literature, Kafka’s fusion of the real with the fantastic take you out of this world and if no other conclusion can be drawn about the narrative, his rich prose is thoroughly enjoyable to read.
The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand explores the battle between individuality and society and is still as fresh and relevant today as it was over 70 years ago when it was published in 1943.
Howard Roark is a young architect who refuses to compromise his principles for the sake of conforming to societal norms. As a result, he not only misses out on a slew of job opportunities, but he also loses out on his true love, the stunning Dominique Francon, who marries Roark’s bitter rival.
The fact that Roark remains true to himself despite the losses and difficulties is a sign that man’s ego serves as the source of human progress.
Life of Pi readers will find a lot to unpack in The Fountainhead from the groundbreaking philosophy of objectivism that Rand is said to have pioneered that brought her worldwide acclaim.
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
Life of Pi is one of the most popular books on this list of books that are similar to Life of Pi, but there’s no denying that Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code has sparked a lot of controversy since its release in 2003.
We are asked to question what we have been taught and what we believe to be true in this novel’s premise: that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had a child together rather than apart.
Robert Langdon, a Harvard-educated symbolist tasked with unraveling the mystery surrounding the death of an elderly curator at the Louvre museum, must decipher the codes and symbols hidden within Leonardo Da Vinci’s artwork in order to unlock the ancient secret.
Obviously not as philosophical or allegorical as other books listed here, but the mystery and suspense of The Da Vinci Code and these theories immerse you into an alternate universe and looking at things differently which is exactly what a surreal novel should do.
Have you read and enjoyed this book before? Our list of books like The Da Vinci Code is here!
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
In The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco explores the same themes of storytelling and truth as Life of Pi.
On the surface, the book appears to be a murder mystery, but the narrative delves far deeper to explore philosophical, theological, historical, scholarly, and esoteric theories of truth.
An investigation into Benedictines suspected of heresy is quickly overshadowed by a spate of mysterious deaths in Italy in 1327, when Brother William of Baskerville arrives. Brothers Aristotle, Aquinas, and Roger Bacon can help Brother William as he investigates the strange events taking place at the Abbey.
One of the many reasons that Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is such a deep and thought-provoking novel is that there’s more code-cracking and symbol-deciphering to be had.
The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is another Booker Prize winner to make this list of books similar to Life of Pi. These’small things’ have reverberated throughout the lives of fraternal twins Estha and Rahel, whose childhoods were marred by tragedy.
The novel, set in Kerala, India, and told mainly through the eyes of the twins, has a magical quality to it. The cultural tensions in India, the political landscape, religious caste relations, and the outmoded “Love Laws” that dictate who should be loved and how much are all brought into sharp focus by Roy.
Martel’s emphasis on the art of telling a story and the truth resonates with Roy’s unique style of telling a story; out of order and with revolving timelines. There is always something new to discover in this book, even after reading it multiple times.
Every time you pick up The God of Small Things, you’ll find something new to love about it.
Max and the Cats, by Moacyr Scliar
To some, Martel’s novel Life of Pi is attributed to Moacyr Scliar’s novel Max and the Cats, but the two books have little in common other than big cats on boats and survival at sea.
Although they both deal with faith and imagination, the overarching themes of Scliar and Martel are very different. Scliar’s novella serves as a political allegory, a metaphor for Nazism and the military regime in Brazil.
As a child, Max Schmidt worked at his father’s fur store in Nazi Germany, where he first met the married clerk who would become his future wife. Max is forced to flee the Nazi secret police and board a freighter full of zoo animals bound for Brazil when his husband discovers the affair.
Disaster strikes again when the ship sinks, leaving him stranded in the jungle with a hungry jaguar in a dinghy. Readers of books like Life of Pi will enjoy delving into Max and the Cats, an incredibly surreal and innovative story concept used by both authors as a vehicle to explore so much more.
The Stranger, by Albert Camus
Many philosophers have been influenced by Albert Camus after reading his book The Stranger or L’Étranger as it was originally published in French.
On a beach in Algeria, Meursault unwittingly gets caught up in a savage act of violence that ends in a murder. As a result of this unintentional killing, all of his previous good deeds and emotions are put on trial, and he pays the price.
My mother died today. I’m going to miss her. Perhaps yesterday, I don’t know,” the novel asks what it means to be human and how we can come to terms with our insignificance in the grand scheme of things.
In spite of its brief length, The Stranger is one of those books that I have reread several times, each time uncovering new layers of meaning. It’s an excellent choice for readers who enjoy deconstructing novels like Life of Pi.
Have you read and enjoyed this book before? Take a look at our selection of books that are similar to The Stranger.
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway’s gripping tale of a man’s struggle against nature, takes us back to the sea. With 84 days without a catch, elderly Cuban fisherman Santiago has become the town’s laughing stock and is being dubbed “salao” the unluckiest.
His next fishing trip takes him deeper into the Gulf Stream, where he hopes to catch more fish and end his bad luck. That’s where Santiago reels in an enormous Marlin, which he battles with for three days because neither is willing to give up the fight.
Santiago is frequently compared to Christ, and the ocean is seen as a metaphor for God’s sorrow as well as a motif of power, strength, life hope, and truth in the narrative.
One of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous works, The Old Man and the Sea was published in his final years and is one of his most well-known.
Even though a book like Life of Pi can be revisited and re-examined, it can still be enjoyed as a piece of fiction that can be appreciated for what it is rather than what it is not.