Life of Pi

I read this book ages ago when it first came out (oh my god, 12 years???) and really enjoyed it.  We just watched the movie and I think I enjoy it even more, now.  The movie doesn’t change things too significantly from the book, so this entry can apply to both.

The story is framed as a novelist (Yann Martel himself, I believe) interviewing Piscine, as he prepares to write a biography about him.  It follows a bit of a flashback format, recounting factoids like how Pi was named after a swimming pool, how he went through school with the nickname “pissing”, and how he tried to change that by changing his nickname to “pi”, after the mathematical symbol.
As amusing as it is, absolutely none of that really matters for the rest of the story.  For the amount of time he spends conversing with other humans in this book, he could have been left completely nameless and no one would notice.  I suspect there might be some sort of theme around the meaning of names, considering the name of the tiger, but it was buried deeply enough that I didn’t bother to dig for it.

The story further describes his father’s zoo and the animals within.  Falling on hard times, his family decides to ship all the animals to Canada and start a new life there with the profits from selling them.  Unfortunately, their ship sinks during a storm, and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat in the middle of nowhere.  With a bengal tiger on board.

I’m not even going to describe the rest.  It’s really something that should be experienced.

The first third or so of the book, before the voyage, spends a lot of time talking about various religions and Pi’s attempts to become a believer in all of them at once.  The movie discusses it as well, but spends less time with it.  The book spends a lot of time discussing how people react to that idea and attempt to force him to choose, while the movie really only throws one line at it when his father tells him he can’t worship all of the religions at once.
I fully admit to skimming this part of the book. When I finished the book, I felt that I had thoroughly enjoyed it and did not regret skimming the religious stuff, but I had always sort of assumed I missed some greater themes that would have popped out at the end.  When we sat down to watch the movie I thought to myself “Aha, maybe now I will see what I missed.”  After watching the movie, I still don’t feel like I missed anything at all, but the beauty of this story is that it is so dependent on the reader’s background.  What seems pointless to me will be the crux of the story to someone else, but things that seemed important to me will seem pointless to them.

Religious themes are important to the book, but a large part of the story is about personal interpretation.  I found wandering around the internet looking at different interpretations almost as entertaining as the story itself.  There are so many different – yet plausible – interpretations of the same story, and so obviously coloured by personal beliefs.  An agnostic will get a completely different ending from this story than someone with a strong faith, and yet all interpretations are “correct”.  There is no one true ending, and seeing people squabble over that is pretty interesting as well.  “What does it mean?!” they cry, and the answer is that it means what you think it means.  Literally.  Life of Pi is ambiguity done correctly.

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About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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