Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guest Book Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I'm happy to have a special guest reviewer join me here on the blog today! Please welcome my son, Dev! He has just recently read Life of Pi for his senior high school English class. As part of their reading experience, the class has been assigned to do a project of some sort relating to the book. I suggested the idea of posting a review here on the blog. With some reluctance he has agreed. We would love to hear your comments and he's also agreed to answer and respond to them, so please... help us with this assignment and let's get a discussion going!

His review:

Book: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Genre: Award winning literary fiction
Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Life Of Pi is a novel about a religious young boy named Piscine Patel who grows up living in a zoo in India. Because of people making fun of his name, Piscine shortens his name to Pi. Due to political issues rising in India, Pi’s dad decides to move to Canada and sell all of their animals. They load their ship, The Tsimtsum, with all their animals and set off across the Atlantic. For some unknown reason the ship sinks, and  Pi is left stranded in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra and an adult Bengal tiger.

I did not think this book was anything special until the very end. I was not all that interested in Pi’s survival techniques and the descriptions of his surroundings, and since this is all the book consisted of from when the ship sinks to the end, I did not think the story was particularly interesting. Also,  many of the descriptions seemed to be overdone and bordering on childish. For example, when Pi is describing the sea life he starts out by saying, “The sea is a city”. This is a great first line and creates a vivid mental picture which the author could have used to his advantage. However, Martel then goes on for a page and a half talking about all of the similarities between the sea life and a bustling city. I think that all this extra description is unnecessary and does not add to the initial picture provided by the first couple of sentences. Then, Martel finishes this description by saying “It was amazing and awe striking”. By this point in the description, this last sentence is completely obvious and should not have to be stated. It is this kind of childish writing throughout the book that started to turn me off. 

At the end of the book is when I started getting genuinely interested in the story. When Pi tells the alternate story to the Japanese interviewers, it completely changed what the book was about. It started me thinking about how the two stories can be looked at as the same and how that can be applied to almost any other story or situation. I find this interesting because it shows how the truth does not always look the same.

Bottom Line: I liked the moral of the story, not necessarily how he presented it.

Other reviews:

I can’t say I enjoyed it – although I did respect the writing and felt it was one of those novels which should be read and digested, and then read again. From Caribousmom

Yann Martel mixes realism and magic to just the right degree, allowing his readers to suspend their disbelief to the degree that everything that happens seems possible. From Book Chase

Yann Martel’s talented use of the English language brings the reader directly into the story with words which awaken all of the senses. From The Literate Mother

The ending didn't do anything to redeem the book in my sight – I thought it was just okay. From Books and Movies

I had no idea going into this book that it would fill my mind with so many deep thoughts and questions. From Books: A True Story

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? 


  1. I wasn't a huge fan of this book either, although I also thought the alternate account of what happened was fascinating. And I liked some of the discussion about zoos--it's something I never really thought about before.

    1. yeah, I thought the zoo stuff was kind of cool. I liked learning about animal behavior and I thought it was interesting how he argued in favor of zoos saying that they are not cruel because the animals would actually rather be in a zoo than the wild.

    2. I don't really remember the zoo talk, but I remember being fascinated by the animals he had to deal with once they were on the life boat.

  2. I think I'm the last person on the planet older than 20 who has not read this book...though I have been tempted many times. Yours and the links are the first reviews that have not been raving. I kid you not when I say people insist this is one I should read before I die (which of course makes me afraid to read it should I die the next day.)

    great observation on how the author sets up a gorgeous image and then proceeds to undermine it by underestimating the reader's own imagination before tacking on another level of unnecessary at the end. It makes me think about how much a writer can leave up to chance. Without delving into details he has to rely on the reader to have the right sort of city in mind. What kind of similes/metaphors does he need to spell out in order for the reader to draw the right kind of messages or conclusions? any seeming digressions usually alert me to do a close reading even as I find those annoying when I am just trying to get through the book. I take it this is one that has to be read at least twice?

    I completely agree with you: awe should go without saying.

    I am not a fan of survival stories myself, especially those at sea. I love Stephen Crane's Open Boat, but it is a short story and it always draws me to think of other things. Do you think Life of Pi could have been more successful at a shorter length? How long did the author need to absorb the reader so deeply into the first experience before impacting them with the end's shift in perspective? What was he spending all that first bit doing?, obviously you got me thinking and now I may have to read Life of Pi

    L (omphaloskepsis)

    1. I don't see myself reading the whole book over again, however I have read the ending part several times. I think that the survival part of the story could have been a bit shorter. Sometimes I felt like he was doing the same thing everyday and it got old. I can see how some people would enjoy the parts on the boat though and I suppose it does make the ending hit a little harder after you have thought for so long that this was the only true story.

    2. L: Wow, LOTS to ponder! I haven't re-read this book...yet.. but I think I will someday.

  3. Hm, all I really remember thinking was - what a weird little book. But, it did get me thinking about our perceptions of reality and how different people remember experiences differently. It's intriguing, if a bit dull in its execution. Great guest review!

    1. Yes, it also got me thinking about how metaphors work and how they can be applied on such a large scale, even in the religious sense. The ending defiantly made the book.

    2. Melissa and Devin: I loved the metaphors. Not once did I find them too detailed. But I do remember that when the book club read it, they did for sure think... "what a weird book!"

  4. Interesting reading your thoughts Dev. I read this one several years ago and don't even remember the ending with the Japanese! Guess that goes to show you what little impact it left on me. I do remember it tough to get into and your description of the the sea and city analogy reminds me why I found the book so tedious! I will be curious how they will translate this book into a movie, though. Do you think you'll see the movie?

    1. Yeah, it will be interesting to see the movie. And yes I will probably see it. My mom will drag me to it whether I want to or not anyways.

    2. LOLOLOL!!! Suey--I have a 16 yo brother and this sounds just like something he'd say. ;) We love them still.

    3. Trish: I can't wait for this movie! I was worried at first, but from the trailers, it looks wonderful.

  5. I listened to this as an audiobook a couple of years ago and remember being totally shocked by the twist at the ending -- didn't see that coming at all. A part of me wanted to go back and read it again with this new perspective, but at the same time I did find a lot of the beginning awfully tedious. I remember thinking several times that it read almost like a zoology and/or a religion text book.
    I don't remember a lot of the details, but I also remember (vaguely!) a part about a weird island that didn't make a whole lot of sense as to how it "converted" over to the new reality at the end. (That thought probably doesn't make much sense either!)

    1. I'm not sure how the island fits into the metaphor yet either. I don't think an island was mentioned at all in the alternate version in the end. I dunno though, maybe i just zoned out for that part.

    2. Gayle: Oh my that island WAS weird.
      Devin: Did you talk in class about what the island means?

  6. I agree; it is the ending that makes this book. I did feel that Martel was kind of wordy and went off on tangents at times, but I think he did a remarkable job of making a story with one character stuck on a boat for so long interesting. I ended up loving it. Nice review.

    1. Yes, the interaction between Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker, also made the story a bit more interesting.

    2. Jessica: As you know, I loved it too!

  7. So--this is Devin's teacher who assigned the book. Foremost, I love what Devin did as a final project. A few questions for Devin:
    What is that moral?
    The universal truth?
    You've also made some discerning observations about Martel's writing. Yet, I have to defend him in the context of his character. Pi retold this story to his interviewer. It was a massive recollection from a harrowing boyhood event. In the retelling, he was re-living and re-evaluating and possibly trying to convince the man that the events were true--and possibly still trying to live the lie himself. When we retell a story, we tend to evaluate it at the end. Was this Martel's intention-to stay in character? Or is he really guilty of poor writing in places.
    Once a reader understands the depth of this novel, particularly its allusions to Edgar Allen Poe's only completed novel, to the case of Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens, to the question of the savageness of mankind, the novel becomes a literary coup.
    Fascinating that one of the commenters did not remember the ending the first time she read. The same thing happened to me. It is a possible testament to our humaness-we don't want to believe nor remember the horrible truth of what really happened.
    Do I love the story? No, I don't. I love the descriptions, the insights the portrayal of the creativity of the human mind in order to cope with the injustices but veracity of life. Most of all it connects me to my own imagination and the possibility that what I create and believe about my life, may in fact, not be real.

    1. Oops, as the English teacher, I should have edited more carefully--the piece needs a few commas and and an "or" in place of the "nor" in the second to last paragraph. I hope you picked those up Devin.

    2. Well, I thought that the point of the book was to justify a belief in god. The way I see it is that Pi spends the entire book telling two different stories to the interviewers. One is about him stuck on a lifeboat with animals and one where he is stuck on a boat with his mother, a sailor, and cook. At the end he asks the interviewers which one they would rather believe and they obviously say that they would rather believe the animal story. To this Pi responds " And so it goes with God." By this I think that Pi means that when all is said and done, and you have nothing left to lose, why not believe in the more comforting story? Why not believe in God? whether it is true or not, whats the point in believing a colder, more gruesome story, when it really does not make a difference in the long run. So i suppose that that is the moral of the story. I did not really like how Martel added the whole "and so it goes with god" part in there though. By telling the reader exactly what Martel wanted to portray by the book, it kind of made it so that it was not open to the readers imagination. He made it so that there is a right answer. It would be like Tolkien after the Lord of The Rings going into depth as to what the ring really was meant to represent instead of letting the readers imagination decide what it means for themselves.
      I guess I don't fully understand your defense of Martel's writing. I agree that Pi told the story about the animals because he did not want to think about the true story, He wanted to replace it with something more pleasant. I don't think that justifies the execution at all. I still think that there were some questionable parts and descriptions. There was also one part where he was describing lightning, and it was okay for a while, and then he said something like "I was thunderstruck, almost in the literal sense of the word." That just made me think that he was not taking it seriously. I feel like that is something I would have written when I was like 8. I'm not saying all the writing was horrible and I hated everything up until the end. I just think there were I think it was just poor writing by Martel.

    3. Sorry, that last sentence came out really weird. " I just think there were some parts where it was just poor writing by Martel" was what I meant to say.

    4. To Devin's teacher: Thanks for making him think! And for having the class read this awesome book! Hopefully you've enjoyed this bit of online exchange. :)

    5. I'm impressed Devin with your insight and reflection. You were able to discern, critique and articulate what was good and what was flawed. What an astute reader.
      Thank-you Suey for the chance to dialogue with Devin. I've enjoyed it immensely. I just became follower number 341! I'm hoping Devin will do another guest blog. Our next major read is Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning."

  8. And I thought I was the only one who noticed bad writing. ;) I did like the survival story, though.

  9. I thuoght that the start of the book was the best part

    1. The start meaning the first religious searching part? Or the start meaning the lifeboat part?

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I agree with you. I felt like the book had some good quality and some interesting details, but I was a little disappointed. I didn't like the way it was written, I feel like it could have been more organized. Awesome review though!

  12. While i agree with devin in a lot of ways, I think that the book has more merit than is being stated here. I feel that the book is more of an exploration in philosophy than excitement and adventure. It is more about Pi's internal conflicts than the considerable challenges nature has given him. Great review though.
    Since Mrs. Martinez asked me to share my project on this blog, I'll add it here.

    Clayton Williams
    Life of Pi Poem
    Once, cast about on angry sea,
    Pi Patel tried to breathe
    The water sprayed, Thunder crashed
    life, lightning pursuing tried to dash
    sea anchors taught, did help to drown
    both man and beast, both worn down
    And the oceans waves chased hope away,
    they thus alone could only pray
    survivals judgement then was stretched,
    as danger stalked them crest from crest

    In desperate bid, with life in balance,
    Piscine changed his habitat
    crawling aboard salvation’s raft,
    his hope with devils he did cast
    Once embarked, with escape uncertain,
    he chose to enter death’s chosen den
    Waters flooding, ever drowning,
    lifes passing seconds counting
    he dare not ask, ‘Is this the end?’
    nor tempt fate’s beckoning

    Hours pass, the flood’s flowing stems,
    Patel’s torment ends
    A gentle hand passes over storms terrific,
    and boisterous waves become pacific
    as Pi overcomes his passing fear,
    he sees his salvation is no longer near
    Now trapped with death once again,
    does he regret entering deaths chosen den?

  13. Good book, better than the film! Offers more insight into Pi and his survival techniques. Worth reading for these lazy days of spring.

    russel of Auto Repair Renton



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