Monday, 22 April 2013

Life of Pi Yann Martel

I've had waited a long time to read this book. It had been on my hit list for a while and had come to my attention again when the film was released so when it was suggested I jumped at the chance to read it.

The story for those of you not familiar, is about an indian boy whose parents own a zoo but decide to up sticks and move to Canada. On route to Canada the ship they are on sinks leaving the boy, named Pi, alone on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutang, a hyena, a rat, several cochroaches and a tiger called Richard Parker.

If I tell you that only 5 of 13 members turned up to the meeting it may give you an idea of the general opinion of the book. It took me until the night before the book club to finish the book and that was only because I went to bed at 9 and refused to close an eyelid until it was done.

As I was receiving the texts from people unable to attend I knew that I needed to salvage the meeting from the few who turned up simply saying 'didn't like it let's move on' so I frantically spent the afternoon of the meeting thinking exactly why I didn't like the book and reading spark notes to research the various themes.  If I was going to spend a sleepless night getting the book finished I was damm well going to talk about it for more than 5 minutes.

So why didnt I like it?

Well I thought it took a long time to get to the shipwreck which was really what the story was actually about. It wasn’t as though we needed much of Pi's back story as his family died so reading 100 odd pages about them was irrelevant and didn't really add anything to the main part of the story.

I didn’t really get the religious parts either. Yes it was slightly funny the way Pi attended 3 different types of worship and he raised a good point – why can’t he practice all 3? But again I don’t really feel like it was useful to the story. He occasionally mentioned God further on in the book when describing the ocean etc. but just didn't see why all that time was spent at the beginning of the book on religion for it to be a non event later on.

I thought the book ambled along, we were told how long he survived for so you weren’t bothered as much about him living (I know the author was interviewing an adult Pi at the beginning and therefore knew that he had survived but when you are already struggling to get a book read and someone reminds you that he lives another 227 days all the hoo ha over whether he has enough water is pointless - he must have as he doesn't die!).

There were parts that we/I liked. A few of us commented about the argument with the 3 religious leaders and could relate to Pi starting high school and establishing his name as Pi and not Piscine. We also liked the parts about the zoo at the beginning where Pi was telling you about the animals, the things that humans fed to them, the escapees etc. I also liked the parts about Richard Parker and how Pi survived – catching fish, turtles, water and so forth – made it feel like I was reading Swiss Family Robinson a book I love.

However the book lacked direction which whilst in someways was realistic to how Pi would have been on the boat I just didn’t like. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere – the book had no purpose (I was treading water as I accidently said at the bookclub to some amusement - shipwreck, treading water get it?)

Then the book just got really really random – the blind man who was eaten by Richard Parker and then the cannibal island. I have to confess that by this point I was just reading to get the book finished in time for book club. A member of the group hadn't read this far into the book and when we started talking about the island that eats humans she looked on in amused disbelief. We talked about whether this was all Pi's imagination, he was dying, hallucinating and so forth but none of us really enjoyed this part or saw the point in it.   

We also talked about the interview that took place once Pi had been rescued. Why was it put there? To basically tell us it was all a dream or a made up version of a boy who was struggling to come to terms with the experiences he had survived through? The interview was stuck on at the end, rushed through and written so the reader was laughing at the interviewers conversations rather than grasping the point the author was trying to make. If the whole point of the book was to tell you how all of life is a story based on one persons version of events (poetically put by some reviewer as ‘the reader was left wondering whether Pis story is an allegory of another set of parallel events’) then why not make a bigger point out of it, dwell upon it rather than giving us 100 pages of preamble about a little boy in India who just wants to love God. The way it was so swiftly dealt with left me feeling as though I had totally wasted my time.
I also really didnt like this being another example of authors who do not know how to give stories a beginning, middle and end and so feel the need to set the novel in the present day with the main character reminiscing about the story you are going to be told. I really do not like this style of book as 9 times out of 10 the main character is put in a life threatening position in the memoir but we already know that they survive!  Bookending this is apparently called - killer of all known suspense and climax!

Why did Martell also feel the need to write himself in to the story - to make the story seem more real? Why? Yes it made me stop and check whether it was a true story or not but when I found out it wasn't it just felt like the author was being egotistical by adding himself into the story.

Overall with the exception of one or two individuals who were not at the meeting (please tell us why you liked it as we wanted the opposite view point) the Group was very disappointed with the book, it lacked drive, had a tendancy to go off on a tangent and had a very flimsy ending.

We gave it a 5.5

Next book Anthony Quinns Half of the Human Race