Reviews: Life Of Pi

I honest-to-God hate it

I hate Life of Pi. Nearly every aspect of it grinds at least one of my gears. But, before I go in, let's put a disclaimer here: I was forced to read this book by my freshman English teacher, who's more or less Beelzebub. And with that out of the way, we can move on.

First, the characters, or rather character, Piscine Molitor Patel. Mr. Patel is—at least in my perception of things—a borderline Marty Stu. He is given little-to-no personality in the book, which is made worse by the fact that the first seventy or so pages are devoted to understanding him and his backstory. A little personality comes through when he's in the ocean, but not much. Then, there's the bit where Pi is somehow wiser, smarter, and more clever than almost every other human in the goddamn book. Seriously; anyone who argues with this kid is quickly and soundly defeated by his simplistic logic, except the Imam, Father, and Guru, who are just left to sputter.

And there's the other bit! The religion! Other reviews have already gone over the details, but basically, Yann Martel knows very little about any of the religions that Pi claims he's a part of.

Great Until the Ending

To be blunt, the ending was a slap in the face. I'm an atheist, and my father was an agnostic, so I'm rather emotional about the issue. I enjoyed the adventure just fine, found it very exciting and realistic (ignoring the island, which was cool enough to let slide), but then the ending. The second story. I wasn't horrified by it. I've read too many stories of cannibalism to be fazed by it. It would've been cool if the second story was a completely different book, but nope. Gotta stir up the readers, make them wonder which really happened. Even worse, they put a religious tint on the whole thing. I really have no care either way towards religion; people can do whatever they please as long as they don't bother me about it. However, I think it rather insulting that the author expects you to believe in the first story (and, subsequently, God) on the basis that "It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but doesn't it sound cooler than logic?" As much spice as you put on it, that's what it boils down to. I find that flat out insulting. Rule of Cool is not something to put religious faith into. Even worse was the treatment of agnostics, when they aren't even explained correctly! They aren't indecisive, they know there's no way of knowing and accept that!

If they'd cut out the copious amounts of religious subtext in it, I would've loved this book to death, but just the way they end it bothers me greatly.

Contemporary Spiritual Musings of the Finest Kind

As someone who's not a fan of the literary genre, this book is a wonderful masterpiece that ruminates on the nature of spirituality and what it means to be human. I especially love that the author leaves it entirely up to the reader's experiences to fill in the holes of the final story. The real brilliance in the author's commentary is "Choose the better story."

Pi struggles with losing his morality and humanity while at sea. But while he's nonetheless saved by reason, cold logic, and an animalistic nature, his faith, philosophy, and spirit allow him to survive beyond his savagery and find meaning in the journey. Too many readers are trying to find on which end of the spectrum the author comes down on being in favor of: atheism or religion, spiritual or literal, and missing the point entirely.

The ultimate question asked by the Japanese businessmen at the end of the story, and Pi's answer of "and so it is with God" speak to the deepest experiences of the human condition. Is God real or not? Is there a purpose to suffering or not? Can we as humanity benefit solely from cold, hard logic, or do we need our imagination, storytelling, and ability to digress?

Choose the story that works for you in your own journey.

Choose the better story.

Pi's Adventure was Cool, His Life Less So (Book)

I'll start negative and finish on a high. The first 70 pages of this book are boring and unfulfilling. It's dedicated to his life and establishing character before the journey, but it basically boils down to 1)Animals are dangerous 2)Pi can swim and 3)Pi is religious, through long stories and anecdotes. The writing has a very unique voice which unfortunately serves to distract from the content and because nothing progressive happens in terms of plotting, there's very little to set you back on the tracks if it takes you off. But it's the third point that is the most problematic, in Life Of Pi, there was the unfortunate misstep that everyone who disagrees with Pi is stupid and it means no-one is asking the questions which allow us to understand who Pi really is. Pi is ecumenical, and a big thing is made of him being Hindi, Christian and Islamic. But both the Imam and the Priest spend their time comically saying things along the lines of 'b-but you can't do that?!' and neither thinks to ask how Pi reconciles, for example, the Koran explicitly stating Jesus is not the son of God. Because we don't learn how he does that it feels like Pi has a deep but completely blind faith, taking ritual and the most basic of ideas without actually understanding what a religion is. Since this is meant to be his core character point, it leads to a situation where I don't understand Pi and can't name a single aspect of his personality. It mangles the ending which I can't even decide is meant to be atheistic or religious. And this isn't an artful type of ambiguity because it's promoting the idea that I should just dismiss these ideas because the books never approached them in depth.

Now the good. This book can possibly be considered comparable with the works of Jules Verne. Space is no longer a mystery boundary, we've drawn lines over all the globe and no longer would consider merpeople in the depths of the seas. But crossing the oceans on a lifeboat with a tiger is exactly the exotic situation and boundary left to be considered, where the small details of survival and the odd encounters fascinate us and allow us to share the feeling of an adventure exploring a new situation. The writing style suddenly gets enveloped in the larger driving narrative and it doesn't matter that I don't know Pi from before, because I can see what he's doing and learn from that.