Some perspective on Pi

After two years of putting it on hold, I finally decided to give Life of Pi one last try and read it from cover-to-cover last week. I’m glad I did but I really don’t think it deserves all the hype and hoopla that surrounds it. So, I guess it is now time to sit back to think and to analyse what it is exactly that makes this book interesting and why parts of it are a complete snooze fest.

First and most importantly, Martell deserves credit for being completely original. I have never come across a pulsating narrative like this that vacillates between hope, despair, religion, science, and a host of other somewhat preachy themes. Martell even manages to masterfully blend both fact and fiction in this strange and bizarre novel about life and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Yann Martel keeps the story of Pi’s long voyage moving at an interesting pace though there are times when the descriptive passages get so long and so detailed that you’ll want to get up, stretch, get a snack, catch up on some work and then maybe later resume reading. We know from the very beginning that Pi will survive, but at times you wonder how he will overcome each of the ghastly challenge he faces.

Reading Life of Pi, you’ll find yourself captivated by a master storyteller. Yann Martel will dazzle you with his prose, facts and in-depth knowledge and insight. He challenges you to believe his story, but we’ll come back to that later. Although Life of Pi works quite well as a gritty adventure tale, it’s apparent that Martel is not interested in simply retelling a classic survival at sea story. In fact much like the boy in The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway Pi’s story too is one of faith, sheer endurance, will power and determination.

Parts of the book are remarkable and thought-provoking and statements such as, “Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can.” (among several other such passages) will easily draw you in and make you think. This quirky yet partially compelling book, which is biblical in scope, sure has the ability to pull at the heart-strings.

But, there are times when Martel pushes his preachy goals too forcefully and that’s one of the things that bothers me about the book. Right at the beginning Martell makes a tall claim. He claims that this book will make readers believe in God, but when I read very carefully, I get the message that Pi chooses to believe in God simply because it is the better story, and not because he actually whole-heartedly believes in the divine. The subtext in the closing chapters completely negates all the build up and that’s quite a letdown.

I have only read glowing reviews of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi yet for me it remains one of those books that everybody seems to ‘love’ but I just sort of ‘like’. The hype that surrounds it is really quite unwarranted. At the end of all the drama and gore, he’s essentially saying one simple thing – that God may not be real, but he chooses to believe in him because it makes a better story. For a story that claims to make you believe in God, I really don’t like the fact that it has that subtext in there, and I hope that perhaps I misinterpreted it.

I know it won a Pulitzer Prize and all but in my modest opinion, I think it’s just a good book, not a great one. Just saying.


4 thoughts on “Some perspective on Pi

  1. You’re being unfair to the novel because it challenges – what I’m assuming – is a belief you value strongly. Firstly, I’m not sure you’re fair to Martel’s belief of the world : the novel is equally, if not more about religion, than it is about the existence of God. But beyond that, the important point that Martel makes is that human existence is a turbulent experience -indeed, if we gave in to persistent existentialist questioning of our lives, our lives would be saturated with ennui and depression. The point Martel makes is that we turn to religion because it provides a more compelling narrative of existence in the interim – by tying suffering now to some value in the after-life, its able to make the journey along the way more meaningful for some people – even though the start (birth) and the end (death) remain the same.

    That’s what Life of Pi is about – especially the dual narrative that Pi presents. Perhaps the story with the cook is the truth, yet Martel’s thesis is that we often embrace what makes the better story and embrace it as truth, which is why we embrace this epic tale of him surviving months at sea with a Bengal tiger. The story is incredibly meta in that respect, and its something we should give Martel credit for

  2. Hi. I found your blog when i was looking for life of pie articles and finally read this article. Sorry, i just want to correct about what you’ve writen in the last paragraph. The novel won the 2003 Boeker Prize and The Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Best Adult Fiction, not The Pulitzer Prize. Btw, good article and i like your blog

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