If I had to sum up Life of Pi in one word it would be ‘unexpected’. I thought it would be a typical survivor story, but I was so wrong. The book is spiritual, almost theological, in nature, and left me questioning reality by the end. The whole concept of a boy being stuck adrift with a tiger is strange, and it really feels like there is a metaphor here that I’m missing.
Yann Martel splits his the novel into three sections: before the boat trip; Pi’s time at sea; the aftermath of his voyage. Each section is tonally a huge shift from the subsequent one, so that sometimes I wondered if it was still the same book. I guess that might have been the point? I’m not sure. Each section had its strengths and weaknesses, but none stood out as better or worse than the others.
The first part explores many questions about the nature of religion, sentience and what it means to be human. While thought-provoking, I feel like it was not relevant to the rest of the story to some extent. The other characters lacked agency, and felt as if their purpose was to help tell Pi’s story. I also strongly disliked Martel’s tendency for long lists of things, which just struck me as bad storytelling. However, if you look at the book less as a novel, but more as an existential text, I think it holds up well.
Furthermore, the interesting part is the large middle section of the novel. It’s here that the plot becomes more relevant, and it actually feels like it’s going somewhere. This is where I think the character of Pi really comes into his own, but it heavily relies on the empathy built for him in the first section. It blends philosophy with action in a way that feels natural. Rarely does this section feel unnecessarily slow. There are some pretty grisly scenes, but it just emphasizes how stark his reality is.
The novel has some excellent moments, moments that made me feel truly at peace, or complete revulsion. It’s these moments that make this book worth it in my opinion. The problem is that you have to slog through some not overly inspiring writing sometimes. Thus, I give it 4 out of 7. It definitely gets better as it goes along, so my advice would be if you want to read it, give it at least 100 pages before deciding to stop.
Do you agree with my assessment? Did you take something from it that I haven’t mentioned? Have I entirely missed the point? Let me know your own thoughts.