Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

This is a good book. Yann Martel isn't my favorite writer. That being said, I do think he is very good. This story is multi-layered, creative and interesting. I think I was a bit disappointed overall because I was expecting something different.

WARNING: I am writing this assuming you have read this book. My review will spoil it if you haven't. I don't know how else to possibly respond. Sorry.

Overview: The title right off sparked my curiosity. The cover art I assumed was abstract, until of course I realized what the bulk of this novel was going to be. Everyone I talked to told me there were "two schools of thought" on the ending. Knowing this I was anxious to get to the end.

Dislikes: The pace of this novel bothered me. I assume that Martel consciously chose to draw out parts, and be very brief other times. But not at the times I would like. For example, Pi has been giving very detailed almost minute to minute accounts of his shipwreck, when all of a sudden on page 189 it says, "I survived 227 days." This transition irritated me. The same with the mysterious algae island. So much is explained and described, then all of a sudden he determines the algae is carnivorous and he leaves. The ultimate example is how the novel is kind of longish, then bam--at the end he presents us very briefly with an alternative. Is that fair?

The book claims to tell "a story that will make you believe in God." I was kind of waiting for the magical moment. It seemed that a great deal of time was spent showing how Pi believed in God and was very religious, and that he was a well trained swimmer. So I would have assumed that these two traits would save his life after the ship sank. I might have just missed the big picture, but I didn't think either o
f these things were mentioned much in the sea chapters.


I like the beginning of the book the best. I enjoyed the authors description of Pi's childhood. Once I was used to the random insertions of italicized narrator chapters I like them too. Especially when he realizes Pi has a family, and he says, "This story has a happy ending."

I love that the boy Pi embraces three religions. I don't remember enough from my Philosophy class in highschool or my World Religions class in college to grasp the full meanings of his comparisons. But it was still great to read what he thought of as the strengths and beauties of these three religions and lifestyles. I loved each of his experiences discovering new truth.

I think most of the chapters of life at sea are well done. Pi continues to be a very clever character, building the raft, and before that realizing the need for it. I cheered with him when the solar stills worked! The descriptions were sometimes gross, but for the most part, tastefully handled.

I was so excited when he reached the island because I thought it was the miracle, and answer to his prayers. Then it got weird. I might not be looking at it close enough to understand the symbolism. Maybe the point is that our blessings may not be as good as they seem. I enjoyed Pi's return to strength, that he could eat until he was full, and the beautiful green. I thought the teeth in the tree were just creepy. The whole ending of this part was weird.

Best Quotes:

When he is on his bicycle and describes his experience, "I suddenly felt I was in heaven. The spot was in fact no different from when I had passed it not long before, but my way of seeing it had changed. The feeling, a paradoxical mix of pulsing energy and profound peace, was intense and blissful." It's much longer, but I love this part and I loved how he explained those moments where we are overwhelmed with a spiritual feeling in an ordinary setting.

"I just want to love God." Beautiful.

On a personal note: "To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches."

My Final Conclusion:

I'm a fan of the first story. For me it was impossible not to believe with the amount of time I had invested in it at that point. I believe that Pi was extremely frusterated that his interrogators didn't believe him. I assume that they werent' the first disbelievers. He thought the animals were the believability problem. So he re-told his story without the animals. Now for the perspective change, I think he had come to identify with Richard Parker, so he told the story as if he were the monster at the bottom of the boat. Which is probably how he felt looking back on some of his more primitive behavior.

I also think that the frenchman part was an hallucination. This part seemed so unreal to me. That he lost his sight then regained it. I preferred the conversation when I thought he was talking to the tiger.

My thought is that if I read the book again (which I don't plan to do right now), I might change my mind. Any Robert Cormier fans out there? I read all his books I could get my hands on in junior high (thanks to Wendy's recommendations). Reading I am the Cheese again in college, gave me a whole new perspective. I seriously doubted that any of the bicycle journey was real. SO I think there is a chance my belief would change upon further readings.


Amy said...

I am so glad to find another who believes the animal story! I got so much criticism from my other book clubs because I stayed with the original story! I have read the book twice and still believe in the animal story, so you might not change your mind. I think I liked the story because I read it first in the heat of summer outside under the sun. I didn't like it as well the second time without the setting of heat to bring the description of the journey to life. Is that strange that physical setting can alter the perseption of a fictional story? I love your interesting ideas and perspective on the book.

Kammy said...

Thanks Amy! I finished the book at my house Monday, but I read some in California at my sisters. We sat and looked at the Pacific Ocean for awhile Saturday, and it did give me a better image of the endless horizon! I love when your physical setting can enhance your reading like your experience!

Kim Edwards said...

Thank you so much for the great review, Kammy! This is exactly why I wanted you to read the book - I really needed to talk to you about the ending! I really wanted to believe the animal version of the story, because the human version was too disturbing. To me, the animal version could have been his way of staying sane and surviving, but I wanted to just believe in the animal story. This is kind of silly, but every time I go to the zoo now, I think of his explanation of how all animals really want is a safe place to be. I used to feel so sorry for the animals, but now I enjoy the zoo more. Thanks again - you make me want to read it again. By the way, I am loving Peace Like a River again - thanks for the reminder.

Julie E. said...

Good review Kammy. It's been a few years since I read it and think I could get more out of it the second time, looking for other meanings. I think I was so disturbed by the ending because it caught me so off guard. I really didn't want it to be true, but I couldn't help but think that Pi envisioned the animals with him to block out the horrible truth. I love books that really make me keep thinking for days after I've finished.

Even though I don't think Yann Martel is a great writer, I think he's a great story teller who knows how to draw you in.

(FYI - I just saw that this book is in the 'pre-production' stage to be made into a movie next year).

Emmie-Lew said...

I did *NOT* like this book. I read it with much anticipation and with high recommendations- so went in with high hopes. My book group had read it just before I came in, and they kept talking about it. So- I read it all on my own, and have never had a discussion about it. I HATED it. I didn't like being "tricked" at the end- I probably need to read it again, but I REALLY don't want to!

Kammy said...

You don't need to read it again! I'm a believer that there's only so much time, and you shouldn't have to read books you don't like once you've finished school! One of the perks of being grown-ups!!