Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The next post for The Sending will be up tomorrow, now seemed like a perfect time (at the end of a section) to put up a plain book review.

I know I’m a tad behind the times here, the movie has been and gone (and I didn’t get a chance to see it, since I refused to until I read the book, so I’ll have to wait until it’s released), but I just finished Life of Pi today. And, I was impressed to begin with. Overall I understand why it’s been such a ‘thing’, and seeing it come to life in a film would be amazing. I also completely understand it’s Man Booker Prize, but I didn’t figure out why it won that until the end, because those sorts of awards are given out to a specific type of book. The ‘literary’, ‘deep’ and symbolic books. Caution there will be spoilers below, proceed at your own risk.

The first part was quite interesting, and made it feel ‘real’. The use of asides with the ‘author’ interviewing Pi in the present made it feel authentic, and for a moment I was confused this didn’t actually happen did it? It was a nice introduction, and made a good solid connection with Pi. I loved the fact that he decided to be a Christian, Muslim and Hindu! At first I was dismayed to find so much religion in the book, it just didn’t seem interesting or relevant, and even still I’m not so sure about the relevance of the religion, it was integral to his personal survival, but for the storyline not really. I guess it is more of the ‘message’ that the religion is there for. But I really thought that once Pi started describing his exposure to all three religions, and how outraged the religious leaders were to find out he was practising three religious, and how nonplussed his parents were, was fantastic. So I enjoyed the inclusion of the religion, something I wouldn’t normally really do.

Of course the real story was in part two, where we had Pi and Richard Parker out in the little boat. I knew that this was the real story from all the trailers for the movie, so it was exciting to see what really was going on according to the book. I love a good survival story, which is why I always love books like Hunger Games, Tomorrow when the War Began, even Feed has elements of that, so I of course relished hearing a tale of Pi’s survival on this little lifeboat, with a tiger! It was fascinating, and quite riveting.

Sure not really that much happened for quite some time, he just struggled to survive, and we were joyous when he had food and water, and were with him when he had nothing. It was a rollercoaster for us as readers. But then we came to the real turning point of the book, when Pi went blind. Yeah that was alright, distressing, but alright. Then he met the other ‘blind’ person, and that’s when things got interesting. I thought that it just had to have been a figment of his imagination, but then he was real. And of course he tried to kill Pi to eat him, but he didn’t account for Richard Parker, even though I think he wasn’t so blind after all. It was at this point I felt I couldn’t believe the story, it was too much of a coincidence for him to come across another person in the boat. For a moment I feared that it was his brother, Ravi, in that boat, but that wouldn’t explain his accent (I did like that he thought he was speaking to Richard Parker!).

Then we came to the island, which history tells us, is always too good to be true. It was at this point that I just couldn’t accept it as reality, how could there be this island of algae with growing trees, and meerkats? But of course it was a salvation for Pi, and it had to go sour. The discovery of the teeth in that tree was gruesome, and then it turns out that the algae turns acidic and basically eats things, that was too much. It’s not that I don’t like the idea, it just felt out of place for the story. So quick smart Pi got out of there, and eventually came to land.

Then we were in the final stretch, and this is where I started to feel annoyed and even betrayed. Pi tells his story to the Japanese officials who were connected to the ship that sunk, and they poke holes in the plausibility of his story, and refuse to believe it. And why wouldn’t they, I had done the same thing! But then they ask him for the real truth, so Pi tells them a different story, one more harrowing, because he wasn’t alone with animals, he had his mother, and there was the French chef, and another man. And each one of them was like a symbol of the animals of the previous tale. The other man was the zebra, his mother was the orang-utan, and I thought Richard Parker was the French chef, but the Japanese men seem to think that he was Pi. And then the book basically ends with Pi asking which story they like better, and that they didn’t matter because they didn’t help with their investigation, and all they could go on was what he said. The Japanese of course liked the animal story better, but UGH I feel cheated. I feel like I just read through this whole story for nothing, because really it could have just been an even worse story with a murderous French chef, who Pi had to kill.

It’s this doubt that I just don’t like. Sure it could appeal to some people, especially the fine people who award the Booker Prize, they eat up this sort of symbolic, reflective stuff. I on the other hand, much prefer a good story. This one just feels like those terrible stories we write as children that our English teachers loathe, ones where we end it with, “And then I woke up.” This ending is exactly like that, except with the caveat, “It was all a dream, or was it? (super suspenseful music plays in the background)”. The ending just disappoints me so much, I would have been really content with the story, if it hadn’t been for the ending. It was an acceptable tale, it got a little weird towards the end, but it was a nice survival story. Sure I could accept the symbolism of the tale, and could analyse it and work out the meaning of the story. But I don’t really feel like I should have to, and I’m not even sure what it would be.

I’m just disappointed, but I guess I shouldn’t be, since I should have known that this is the sort of book I was buying. Next time, I’m probably going to steer clear of the literature section, unless I get a really good recommendation, I’d prefer to spend more of my time reading something enjoyable, rather than trying to find the meaning of the book. I’d suggest that you read parts one and two, and forget about the last part, you won’t be missing out.

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