Life of Pi book: Not worth it

Posted July 25, 2012 by shearhylite in The Daily

In a nod to the upcoming movie, which hits theaters on December 14, 2012, I ventured into the fantasy tale of Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. Until my uncle had suggested it, I had never heard of this book before. So, I pose a quick synopsis for those that are in the same boat. Pi is about a boy named Piscine Molitor Patel. Tired of people mispronouncing his name and classmates calling him “Pissing Patel,” he decides to go by the nickname Pi. His father owns a zoo in India, and after awhile, decides to sell it and move the family to Canada. On their journey aboard the Tsimtsum ship, the vessel sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi, a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger are the only survivors stranded on a small lifeboat.

Here’s my first problem with the book. Pi spends the first chunk of the book analyzing the psychology of the animals in his father’s zoo and exploring his spirituality. Boring. At one point, he becomes a member of the Hindus, the Christians, and the Muslims at the same time. When he is reprimanded for this, his reply is basically “why can’t he just love God?” Ok, I get it. Analyzing animal psychology and trying to find himself gives the book an existential, philosophical feel. But in reality, these points feel underdeveloped and empty, leaving me to just not care about them. Eventually, I found myself asking out loud “Ok, where is this going?” Finally, I got to the shipwreck. Here we go! I thought. The tension of a sixteen year old boy stranded with vicious wild animals in a tiny space was the just the thrill I needed after the first half of the book. Needless to say, things go wrong between the animals, leaving Pi with just a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The two face-off and live somewhat civilly until massive starvation kicks in.

The idea of Pi using his knowledge of animal psychology to assert his dominance over Richard Parker is certainly an interesting one but again, it felt underdeveloped. Pi provides fresh water and fish for Richard Parker, along with some training tactics, to assert his alpha male. So, here’s my second problem with the book: Martel could have made his relationship with the tiger much more involved than he did. Again, it feels underdeveloped and all too soon, we are back to waxing poetic about spirituality.

An exorbitant amount of time is spent describing the different ways in which Pi catches food and ties ropes and oars together, and I had trouble following some of the imagery.

So, my third and final problem with the book: At the end of the book, Martel analyzes the damn thing FOR YOU. Frankly, I found this insulting. He spells out the allegories and innuendos for you through the dialogue of other characters.

At it’s core, this book is a coming-of-age tale with a teenage boy who happens to be facing the terrible tragedy of losing his father, mother, and brother, and being forced to survive in the open ocean. There were very few moments with his relationship with Richard Parker that kept me turning pages.

There is one thing about this book that I cannot deny: It is written beautifully. There’s no denying that the prose is gorgeous. It practically dances off of the pages and swirls around effortlessly in your mind. You can see the syllables rolling off of your tongue with perfection. So, I was sorely disappointed that such a beautiful writer would produce such a poorly developed book. I wanted so badly to like this book, or at the very minimum, appreciate it, but sadly, I was unable.

To be honest, I think this might make a more interesting movie.

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