Life of Pi

I rarely stop reading a book in the middle.  Once I have made the commitment to start, I feel like I am somehow breaking faith with the text if I stop midway.  This has probably resulted in untold damage to my brain cells from forcing myself to finish thousands upon thousands of crappy pages, but so be it.

I almost stopped reading Life of Pi right in the middle.  It just wasn’t doing it for me.  Yeah, yeah, I get it.  There’s a kid, there’s a tiger, there’s a boat and an ocean.  I pretty much gathered that from the picture on the cover.  I felt we were just sitting there together on the lifeboat, which is all well and good for the kid with no options, but for those of us with dishwashers to unload… well, I really wanted to leap out into the water and swim the hell away from Pi and Richard Parker.

And then, right when I was ready to bail, the narrator mentioned the number of days he was at sea, and suddenly everything got interesting again.  I decided to stick around and see where it all went.

Damned glad I did.

Maybe it’s because I am tired or maybe it’s because I am out of practice, but I just didn’t see the end coming.  I don’t mean the part about finding land – I sort of figured that was how a “lost at sea” book usually winds up, unless it concludes with a guy nailing a bird to the mast of a sinking ship, in which case there is still one guy in a life boat who makes it to shore.

What I didn’t see coming was the part with the Japanese dudes who come down to interview Pi.  I don’t want to say a lot more for those of you who haven’t read this (have I mentioned that I abhor spoilers?), but just when I thought we were talking about one thing, it turned out the whole had been about quite another theme altogether.

If you HAVE read the book or don’t care if I reveal something, then read on.

My son, Zachary, is almost five years old.  These days, he draws pictures to process the reality that is not quite what he would like it to be.  It is his way of controlling the story and of shielding himself from the pain of a world that doesn’t operate how he prefers it to.

Reading Life of Pi, I realized how much we all do that.  Children are, of course, especially adept at weaving yarns, but adults need it just as much.  Fiction allows us to process the complicated odor of reality.  And, yes, television serves this purpose, as do movies.  Books, in my humble opinion, do it better because they require more work on the audience’s part, but that is definitely my bias.  But we do it all the time.  We fantasize about losing weight or having time to cook or having sex with Christopher Walken.  OK, maybe not the last one…  We also choose which story to tell, so that sometimes we show our darkest selves and other times we get to be the hero.

None of this is news, of course, but I think Life of Pi sheds a hell of a positive light on the way fictions function in our lives.  As to how that ship sunk, well, all I can say is someone was down there with a key letting out all those wild animals.

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9 responses to “Life of Pi

  1. I had a similar experience when I read this – I rarely quit on books, but this one had me stopped in several places. It did pick up a lot toward the end, though, and I was glad I read it, although I don’t think I formed such profound conclusions about it.

  2. I have one book I quit…yes, just one…and I still feel bad about it. And it is in my room looking at me, making me feel guilty every time I see it.

    As for fiction…sometimes don’t you think that is what blogging is? It is real, but yet, it is real in the way we want it to be real. And so, it can’t ever show the whole picture.

  3. That’s interesting, Emily. I don’t feel bound to finish a book so I’m glad to know that I should persevere with this one when I get to it.

  4. I feel the same about finishing books — there’s only one I haven’t finished, I don’t even remember the title, and I’m absolutely confident it was the right decision. I did feel sorry when i thought you’d stopped Pi in the middle though, and I was glad you finished it, and liked it. I still think my favourite part was in the first half, though, when he was becoming an adherent to every religion at once. I loved that on so many levels :).

  5. i really liked the book, it was recommended by a IRL friend (also the blogger the dragonfly… don’t know if you read her or not) it surprised me, too

    i am learning to give up on books, because there have been several that I slogged through for MONTHS when I could have been zipping through books I liked. But i’m not very good at it. I’m into commitment. 😉

  6. Interesting. I had the opposite reaction. I enjoyed the book all the way through, and read it in one sitting — but I thought the ending was a cheap trick, and it made me like everything I had read less in retrospect.

    Linked with my opposite reaction is an opposite interpretation. (SPOILERS follow, although I’m going to try to phrase them in a very vague way.) Rather than being a celebration of the power of imagination, the ending struck me as a slightly embarrassed apology for the vivid and imaginative story that preceded it.

  7. Oh, and I’d argue that there’s nothing about film and TV as art forms that make them require inherently less work. A slickly produced mainstream novel doesn’t demand any more from a reader than a slickly produced mainstream film, and a quirky and personal film doesn’t demand any less than a quirky and personal novel.

    The only difference is, film and TV are expensive to make, so the ratio of quirky-to-mainstream is much lower. But that’s an economic issue rather than an aesthetic one.

  8. Again…me too! I only kept at it because 1. I LOVED the first (pre-boat) part and you probably know me well enough to know why. And 2. because I had the audio version playing while I nursed “A” 24 hours a day and I couldn’t get up to turn it off. But I thought the ending was ASTOUNDING. Except I have to disagree with you that

    (SPOILER)

    I think he leaves it open – we can’t know which way the story actually went. I think half the point is the inability of the Japanese to believe what he was telling them. I think the genius of the story is that we CAN’T know, that we feel like we NEED to know, but we have to let go of that because we don’t. And to me, that is gorgeous.

  9. Oh, I forgot to say (in case anyone is reading this, a year later) that my reasons for seeing the book this way are all in the first part. Otherwise, that first part just doesn’t make any sense. But then you realize at the end he was setting you up for a knock out.

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