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Thoughts on Life of Pi

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Spoilers below.

At first I found the style irritatingly precocious, but either it soon improved or I began to enjoy it as the narrative progressed. The length of Pi’s time on the boat (an amazing 227 days) I suppose warrants the allotment of the majority of pages in the book and offers a chance to muse metaphorically on the events that occurred, with a writer’s sensibility. I can see therein the need to investigate aspects of the journey in great detail both as a tactic to enliven the writing for the reader and pass time for Pi on the lifeboat – although I suspect that the former provided more motivation for such passages. I am referring to the naming of the skys, and traffic patterns of the sea, things we take for granted but made extraordinary by merely the inordinate amount of time contemplating them. I enjoyed this element to some extent.

Regarding the issue of faith (a rather central theme), the book’s ending implies that we believe in God only because it provides a better story, in the same way that we believe in the existence of the animals on board the lifeboat because it provides a better story (provided the “facts” are useless in either case). But for someone on a lifeboat for almost a year, faith doesn’t provide a better story; it provides a manageable one. Wouldn’t Pi’s faith in god provide meaning to his suffering and therefore hope? It’s safe to assume that not many people enjoy vain suffering. But this is only the beginning of faith, and certainly wasn’t the end for Pi. Indeed, his faith was set before the ship sank and had developed from merely a strategy of meaning making to a full-blown love for God.

It is true that readers are in the same position as the investigators, we select either story one (with animals) or story two (without them) not based on validity but on resonance with our own reality so long as the facts are inconsequential.

I found the endeavour to link the two stories fun: which person was which animal; Pi in his delirium speaking with the tiger or speaking with himself. Oddly, the Frenchman appears twice in the first story, as the hyena and as himself at the end. But in the end, the endeavour appears almost pointless. I am uncertain as to the ability to intermix the two versions without diluting the purpose of the book. Then there are elements in story one such as the floating island of algae that don’t appear to have correlates in the second story.

From hints, I was expecting a surprise at the ending and I must admit that I wasn’t quite clever enough to see the second version of the story coming. It was a delight to read the real Pi in the transcribed interview, however small a portion it might have been. I continued to have the sense that the book’s character didn’t reach the depth of suffering of the real person (how could it?). But it did create a true sense of sympathy for the real Pi and a happiness that he survived. The interview only solidified Pi’s ingenuity and not so much his despair.