The Electric Commentary

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Books That I Hate: Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi is about a liar, and is written by a self-important moron named Yann Martel. The cover of the book claims that the book will "make you believe in God." It says this because Martel thought that including the phrase would sell more books.

"Life of Pi" is about a kid named Pi who gets stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a Tiger named Richard Parker. His family owned a zoo and while they were moving the Zoo the ship went down and only Pi and the Tiger survived. He survives starvation, the Tiger, and a parasitic island that tries to eat him, as well as an encounter with a blind man in Pi's exact situation to make it all the way across the ocean. He then reveals that the entire story is a lie and that the animals, including the tiger, were just people.

That's it. The stupidest part of the book is the island that tries to eat him. I'm sure it's a metaphor for something, but by this point I was eye-rolling big time. The real reason that Martel claims that it will make you believe in God is that Pi's big lie is supposed to relate what the authorities on the other side of the ocean need to know, not the actual truth. He is communicating the rather trite sentiment that it is the story that counts. This is meant to excuse the lack of literal truth in religious text and justify the parable-method of religious revelation. Fine, but at least in this case of biblical parables an allegedly valuable lesson is related. Most parable teachers (think Aesop) understand this. Martel doesn't have an overarching lesson though, he's content to let the fact that his character is a liar be the lesson. The whole story is merely a twist Aesop's story of the scorpion and the frog, and it's not much of a twist.

The book also contains a helpful "Book Club Discussion Guide" in the back that asks you to identify symbolism where none existed in an effort to make you think more of the book in retrospect. This is very clever as it adds pages without requiring any more work of Martel.

Pi is simultaneously too clever and too stupid for his own good. He rescues the Tiger when letting it drown is clearly the way to go, yet he also develops an ingenious Pavlovian conditioning program. Martel also goes for pure shock value as Pi is forced to eat disgusting foods (he even tries Tiger feces) and suffer starvation and too much sun.

Aside from the idea that lying is OK, the other big metaphor is that we often don't see huge things that are right in front of us. Martel continually repeats that if we turned a city upside down that a veritable jungle of animals would fall out. The stupid parasitic island also evades detection even though it's huge and, you know, eats people.

"Life of Pi" is the ramblings of a madman dressed up as profound philosophical insight. Reading it was akin to eating tiger feces. At least he had one valid metaphor in there.

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21 Comments:

  • I thought that Life or Pi was okay as I was reading it. It's well written enough--good imagery, interesting story etc. The flashbacks were way more interesting than what was going on on the lifeboat. But you're totally right in your conclusion. The man-eating island was stupid and the last two chapters or so, when he reveals the whole thing was a lie, made the whole rest of the book worse.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 9:16 PM  

  • "written by a self-important moron"

    So it's kind of like having a blog?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:21 AM  

  • Kind of. Except it cost money.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:35 AM  

  • "'written by a self-important moron'

    So it's kind of like having a blog?"

    Or commenting on a blog anonymously for the sole purpose of insulting someone?

    By Blogger JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe, at 8:57 AM  

  • I appreciate your frankness and willingness to criticize a book that everyone else I've talked to can't say a bad thing about. I also thought the reading group guide was pointless and that some of the metaphor was overdone.
    None the less I liked reading the book. But I like sci-fi and fantasy.
    Martel did not at any point make me believe in god.

    By Blogger Daniel Alavi, at 4:28 AM  

  • I would have to agree with you 100%

    I would not read this book with my own free will.
    I am the subject to a failing english10 grade, if I do not read this.

    I hate it already, in all honesty. and by me hating it, I have found my teacher hating me, because its her favorite book.

    even if that may be the fact, I attend a public high school. And the matter of religion should not be stressed. History class, is indeed the only place in a public school where religion should be in the content. Only because we need the religion in our history, to be at a clear understanding of how and why we are here today.

    I am an atheist. basically, the whole belief in "god" makes me chuckle, only because I have torn apart many religions in my mind, and I dont find any realistics in it. I have chosen to be atheist because, I dont know what is out there, no one does, but the thought of one big man that we cant even see, has created this? everything, he has created? seems more or less like bullshit to me.

    There is more realistics in saying that we were placed or created here by aliens, that have discovered earth, way before we have flown on a spaceship to the moon.

    the life of pi, does indeed offend me, its constant bashings of agnostics, and atheists makes me sick.

    anyways, If you dont mind, I would like to use key points from your blog, while writing a critical essay, I have given myself, which I will bash this book a thousand and one times more that he bashed agnostics, or atheists.

    By Anonymous Saruh, at 9:45 AM  

  • ok - I posted the following on visual bookshelf, and now have read some reviews online, including yours, that made me laugh.

    I simply cannot believe people think the book is pro-religion. Amazing. Basically, in black and white, it says religion is a comforting lie. And people who are religious *like* this?!!!

    All the way through, we see the benefits of experimentation and rational thought (as well as their downsides in the cook) because Pi survives in the best non-religious way, through fortitude, good sense, intelligence and so on... not though delusions. Perhaps mentally he shuts off from the horror around him... I hope he gets some therapy to help him get back to normal, and some nice friends.

    here is my review, for what it's worth.

    Jim


    "I didn't like this. I don't know what it is meant to say about religion or science, about alternative views of a series of events and narration as an activity. Nothing, that I could see. As a scientist, with an atheist world view, I didn't see anything challenging or revealing in the story either... is this somehow a critique? And what of?

    Does it criticise the invention of god to make the brutality of life and death more palatable? Does it criticise the mundanity of those lacking a storytelling imagination? Or, perhaps, if the book is actually a good book and I am just missing the point, it is actually a meta-novel, where the critique is different for different audiences. I was under the impression that somehow it champions the spiritual life, but I thought the opposite. For me, the scientist atheist, it shows how religion is a way to avoid the harshness of reality, how it turns people into zoo animals, with a convenient territory provided with all they need for spiritual survival, on tap, provided by their zoo-keeper (their religious leaders and traditions). Is the way the book might provide different interpretations for different people why it is considered a great book, because as well as being part of the subject matter of the book, it is also in its own nature to be ambiguous?

    So, to the story. It was ok, with some interesting bits (on animals), but there is no tension, and lots of repellent eating of raw fish. I mean, it's a story about someone adrift for months in a lifeboat... what could possibly happen that you don't know about? He is hungry, and bored, and frightened. I was mainly bored, sometimes hungry, never frightened. The ending was totally predictable, but quite well done. I liked it the most.

    It compared very poorly with, on the one hand, Touching the Void, a TRUE story of survival and horror and human resilience, or, on the other, Lord of the Flies. I suspect if you like Life of Pi, you would like both of those, but I doubt the converse is generally true. Both of those works are about society or relationships as well as individual survival. The book has no relationships in it... just a boy and a tiger. The other characters are minor and unrealistic. The boy is also bizarrely unrealistic.

    I am intrigued why it won the booker prize. Must go and read some critiques of it."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:45 AM  

  • The last two chapters didn't reveal that the story was fake. Pi just told the story in a different way, the story where he includes the cook is fake.

    By Anonymous Sucker $234, at 7:06 PM  

  • talking about the first comment there.

    By Anonymous Sucker $234, at 7:07 PM  

  • you're totally missing the point! the ending doesn't reveal he's been lying.
    When Pi finally washes up on the shores of Mexico, he recounts two versions of his story. The same facts are offered, with a different interpretation.
    In the first story, Pi is the sole human survivor on a life boat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan and a huge Bengal tiger. The second has no animals and is far more brutal. One requires suspension of disbelief, the other is “reasonable”.
    the very structure of the story itself is designed to force the reader to subconsciously choose whether they are prepared to walk away from the “reasonable” to accept the better story. In other words to have faith, when to do so makes no sense.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 9:37 AM  

  • maybe the reason why you don't like the book is because you don't understand it? He wasn't lying about the story, it's making us choose whether we should believe in the plausible one or the slightly more reasonable one. I suggest you re-read the story so that you actually know what you're reading =).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:19 PM  

  • I suggest you get a clue and read an actual good book.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:14 PM  

  • "the LIE of PI"

    The major problem I have with this novel is, that it promised to "make you believe in God". Well that's already a promise noone really can make, but still okay, if an author at least works towards the goal of convincing the reader. But in the end of this novel, you don't get any insights or ideas regarding "believing in God" at all. All we get to know is, that the main character likes to make up stories. And to state in the end it's only the story that counts doesn't really fit - because people not only believe in God because of the story, but because they believe God to be true. So this story may leave the reader feel tricked, if he wanted some truth regarding believing in God, because it misses the whole point and bluffs you without an ahaa-feeling.

    Plus, maybe the author himself likes to "make up stories"...
    read this:
    "Mr. Martel, who had earlier said that he had been inspired by a tale he had heard in India, now acknowledges that the idea came from "Max and Cats", but says the rest of the story is his own. "I saw a premise that I liked and I told my own story with it. I don't feel I have done something dishonest.""
    And here a remarkable comment of Mr Martel, about why he didn't read the book of said author:
    "Why put up with a brilliant premise ruined by a lesser writer'' Mr. Martel is quoted as having said.
    http://www.hinduonnet.com/2002/11/09/stories/2002110904001200.htm

    What remains is
    "the LIE of PI".

    By Anonymous Chi, at 8:15 AM  

  • Alright. I completely understand as to why you're frustrated with the book...I mean, it is a pain in the butt. Yet, you're missing the point, as many other people have pointed out.

    Pi made two stories. The one with the animals being the innocent story, the nicer story...the one you'd probably see in a Lifetime movie. The one with the humans is the logical story that could've happened. By telling both those stories, Pi is making us choose a story. If we choose to believe the animal story over the logical human one, we are essentially choosing religion, or God. When Pi was on the Tsimtsum (which means "withdrawal" by the way), he had God right by his side, his life was wonderful, he had someone holding his hand. Then when the Tsimtsum sinks, that hand of God which guides him towards religion is withdrawing from him. He is left on his own to fend for himself and find himself. This is a test of multiple sorts to see how Pi develops as an independent character. This is a test to see if that independent character will choose God on his own, without the hand guiding him to God.

    THAT is the meaning of the book. It is the meaning of choosing faith once you're lost in society.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:46 PM  

  • it's quite boring, I have a pile of books that I want to read, time is running out and really? a man eating island? enough...

    By Blogger Owner Tricky Putt Web Design, at 5:04 PM  

  • I only finished this book because I am in a book club. I thought it was pretentious nonsense. Someone who claims to be a christian and a muslin, both monotheistic religions who forbid any other gods and also a Hindu, a religion with many gods, is a hypocrite or a fool. Then to he goes on to say atheists are a faith as well and will make a leap of faith close to death from fear, which in the same way others make their leap of faith, this insults the person he claims to look up to, Mr. Kumar the atheist, and all people of faith.
    Another point of nonsense. Drinking rainwater from the lifeboat when he has rainwater, still water and canned water. The lifeboat water has zebra guts, Orang-utan guts, hyena guts, tiger urine... in it and he decides to drink it?

    I could go on and on listing questions an editor could have asked but I will do what the publishing houses who rejected it dis and say "it does not meet our current needs". I do not hate anyone enough to pass this book on to them so it will go in the compost.

    By Anonymous David Doyle, at 9:10 AM  

  • I just added you to the list of people I hate.

    By Blogger StocktonStyle, at 12:10 AM  

  • This book was frustrating. And I didn`t like it much.

    Thank god I`m not alone on this!

    But I will edmit that there were FEW things I did like.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:45 AM  

  • so is this just a blog where you complain?

    By Blogger Audrey Wang, at 11:54 PM  

  • i'm a high school english teacher, and i've read better told, more compelling stories from bored, stoned students looking to be finished with an assignment. this book was the most plot-holed, pretentious 7th grade level schlock i've ever read. i want my hours back.

    By Anonymous Justin Braider, at 6:17 PM  

  • Shut up athiest

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:24 AM  

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