I do not like this book, Sam-I-Am, I do not like this book at all!
My first problem with Life of Pi is that the first third of it is SO DAMN BORING. I kept wanting to quit. Since Kelley liked this so much though, and I really had nothing else grab my attention of late, I decided to keep trying. Page after page of animals in the zoo, how to train wild cats (foreshadow much?), and why this kid adopted three separate religions to fill up his spare time abound and even get repeated. I was vaguely intrigued by the story of how the boy got his nickname Pi but never satisfied by the explanation that he was named after a swimming pool. Okay, so you wanna honor the kid’s godfather…perhaps give the baby his given name, NOT the name of a place he once swam.
Warning: I’m not sure how else to talk about this book without giving away my major irritation factors, so if you don’t want to know what happens, particularly at the end, be aware: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Then, in the second section, we get the actual shipwreck that the novel is so famous for and the circumstances which involve Pi being stranded on a lifeboat with his father’s zoo animals, one of which is an adult Bengal tiger. This makes up the remaining 60-65% of the novel, I’d say. It is incredible and fascinating to explore how this kid (I’m never really sure how old he is) survives his ordeal on a day-to-day basis. I liked this section a lot because of the level of detail; how it feels to break sea turtle shells, the smell of putrefying carcasses, the urgent need for water. I pictured exactly how the ship was laid out, where his territory was and what belonged to Richard Parker, what his raft and solar still looked like, etc.
And then we get to the end. Pi just washes up after drifting many thousands of miles somewhere in Mexico. Wow, that seems anticlimactic and unremarkable. Is it even possible to span the entire ocean in 227 days by drifting in a lifeboat? Then, Richard Parker jumps out and is never seen again…hmm. I guess that sort of fits. And there are all sorts of religious tie-ins here, but I don’t want to even discuss that on this blog! However, the idea of stories having power IS worth discussing.
So much of this story shows Pi to be an unreliable narrator: his name, his multiple religions, the disjointed and jumpy chapters and repetition, the fact that he is surviving on a lifeboat with hello? a tiger. Still, I can get behind all those things. But then, when you add to this how he manages to “throw” sharks, somehow depletes his supplies super-rapidly, has such knowledge on how to survive on a lifeboat although I don’t think he’s been at sea before, etc. Still, those things even seem to make sense BECAUSE of the situation, you know? Even though I was aware that the narrator might not be completely lucid particularly as the story progressed, that seems reasonable given the trauma, deprivation, and exposure which he experienced. (This progressive loss of clarity is particularly evidenced by the hallucination of the other “blind” guy on a lifeboat and the carnivorous meerkat island which met all his bodily needs but had no soil and ATE human beings). Yet even still, I wanted this story to be a true tale of human survival, not just a clever coping mechanism mentally put in place which helped Pi survive a butcher on the lifeboat, the death of his mama, and his own cannibalistic eventuality.
Also, the fact that the symbolism is so blatantly spelled out by the Japanese ship representatives annoys me. I like some symbol with my obvious, not just a statement that Mom = the orang utan, the Taiwanese guy with the broken leg = the zebra with the broken leg, the vicious chef = the hyena, etc. In fact, I think I could have bought the whole ending more completely if I could have filled in those details myself and drawn my own conclusions, particularly the one about Pi’s metaphorical parallel on the lifeboat. For instance, I think this duality could have been effectively made clear without becoming too simplistic if perhaps Pi had a significant, but unexplained, hand wound. After all, just having the Japanese ship dudes state it outright without allowing me to connect the dots makes me feel as if I’m being denigrated by the author and deprived of my participation in the novel. It is all but saying that the fable-like initial story has to be wrong (as well as religion, but again, let’s ignore that aspect) because it cannot be empirically proven.
Since I do like teasing out evidence for why certain aspects in literature work, a reread of this might make me enjoy it more. For now, I’m simply disappointed.