Monday, August 18, 2008

Life of Pi

Life of Pi came out quite a long time ago, but I took my sweet time boarding the Yann Martel train. To be honest, the plot line seemed interesting, but I couldn't see how a story that long could come from what is basically "boy and tiger survive in a life boat together". That said, everyone who reads it always has a strong opinion one way or another and in the end, my curiosity got the best of me. That, and my friend Darrah loaned it to me and I'm never one to turn down a free loaner book.

The book follows the story of Pi Patel, who grows up in Pondicherry, India as the son of the local zoo keeper. He is deeply religious and the first 200 pages or so of the book follow his religious growth as he becomes Christian, Hindu, and Muslim (simultaneously). I found this section to be a little bit boring. The zoo stuff and animal tidbits were kind of interesting, but the lengthy descriptions of religious awakening gave me more than one flash back to the bore that was The Alchemist. I kept wondering, "When are we going to get to the ship sinking and tiger befriending part?".

Because here's the thing. For some reason I can't explain, I was really thinking this book was going to be about Pi getting stranded in a life boat with a FRIENDLY tiger. Maybe it was the cute cartoon picture of the tiger on the book cover. I was clearly ignoring the sad picture of the boy in the fetal position laying in the stern. I didn't think they'd be BFFs right away, but certainly by day 7 or 8! I had visions of the tiger spooning poor Pi in order to keep him warm in the night, catching fish for their breakfast in the morning, and enjoying many an adventure on the high seas together. So you can imagine my disappointment when nothing even remotely close to this happened.

I didn't love the lengthy descriptions of knot tying and raft making, it felt a little like reading a how-to manual, only minus the helpful diagrams. There were pages of "Pulling the oars in one after the next, I worked them through the armholes of the life jackets - in one armhole, out the other, so that the life jackets became secured to the four corners of the raft. I tied each one shut... I found one of the buoyant ropes in the locker. With the knife, I cut four segments. I tightly lashed the four oars where they met and tied the lifebuoy to each side of the square. I wove the lifebuoy's rope through the life jakcets... BLAH BLAH BLAH. You get my point, no? Why not just say, "Then I made a raft out of oars and life jackets." I feel that this would have been sufficient. I also didn't love all the blood and guts; I spent at least 1/4 of my time reading this book with a grossed out expression on my face.

Despite all my complaints, I was eventually able to get over my misguided preconceptions and I got really sucked into the story. I even had weird dreams last night about being shipwrecked with my cat. I got nervous when Pi was starving, super excited when he found the food rations, was all “what the ef?” when he met the Frenchman, and totally freaked out when he found a weird island made of algae populated by meerkats. Then, finally, I felt sweet relief knowing he would be okay (despite having been assured of this fact by the author at the very beginning of the book).

But then at the very end, everything takes an artful twist and Yann Martel totally messed with my head. I was left asking, “Was the whole story an allegory for what really happened? Really??” I refuse to believe it. I take the story of the tiger over the other story any day. Even if tiger and boy do not row off into the sunset together as I had hoped.

PS: I had a much better review written, at which point Blogger pulled a fast one on me and deleted it. I tried to recreate the brilliant review, but it falls a bit short. Thanks for nothing, Blogger.

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