Life of Pi


Life of Pi by Yann Martel, appeared in a Salvation Army my mom and I visited while killing time before a dentist appointment. I wasn't overly excited about reading this one, I picked it up because I'd heard it was good, but there was nothing that really piqued my interest initially. It was only a dollar at the thrift store so there was really no harm done if I ended up not liking it. There were many copies of Twilight at the thrift store, make of that as you wish.

Looking back, one of the key ideas of this book is how the necessity of life can emerge in the darkest of times, and yet somehow disappear when things are going okay. There's also a lot to think about in terms of what's truly important in life and how under extreme pressure the answer comes easily.

Some of the prose in this book reminded me of the narration in The Book Thief.

The sky was a heavy, suffocating blanket of grey cloud, but without promise of rain.

Pi is forced to recognize the finer details of his surroundings as he has very little to stimulate him. In The Book Thief, Death lives an eternal life and thus has had time to realize the minutia. In a way Pi also lived an eternity by disassociating himself from the concept of time while at sea. I find it interesting that both characters provide vivid detail of the sky, which I suppose is a universal element in stories.

Pi also seems to have a real appreciation for the present and "real" properties of life. He is weary of abstract thought, which is a big topic in The Tao of Pooh.

I'll tell you, that's one thing I hate about my nickname, the way that number runs on forever. It's important in life to conclude things properly.

I agree that it's important to conclude things properly, although I'm not sure why I think this way. What I do know is that I feel most of my conclusions so far in life have been haphazard and not well orchestrated. Often times I catch myself thinking about how I should have said sorry to that one person or really let another know I appreciated them before parting ways. Some things struggle and fight, refusing to conclude, until eventually the whole thing falls apart, finally ending on much worse terms than necessary. But I guess no amazing opportunities will ever arise if all we do is call things off prematurely without seeing how far it will really go. Sometimes you need to just pull the plug and move on.

Until it knows its rank for certain, the animal lives a life of unbearable anarchy.

I don't think this is just animals. We all want to know where we fit in the world. Whether you're at the bottom or top, at least you have something to go off of. This relates to the necessity of hitting rock bottom, knowing you can go no lower makes your position absolutely certain, inducing the sort of zen-like understanding described in Fight Club.

The way Pi trains the Richard Parker (the tiger) is quite similar to the manipulations that Alex suffers in A Clockwork Orange; correlate undesirable actions with sickness and suddenly you gain full control. There's also the reverse tactic of correlating desirable actions with rewards, which I think is more widely used, or at least accepted as a general practice.

There's another aspect to the narration that makes it really feel as if Pi is telling the story himself. Knowing his history with zoology and religion makes the extra emphasis on these topics seem authentic and genuine—this might be circular logic, since Pi's history is given through the narration.

This book lies in a grey area between true story and a work of fiction. Real life eventually becomes story. Stories can be better than real life. Sometimes life is more absurd than fiction. I read this book as if everything happening was fact. I didn't find myself doubting Pi or theory crafting about what really happened. I saw the part with the other blind castaway as a metaphor for Pi losing a part of himself. As if what he had gone through would change him forever, and his life was now divided into two parts: everything before the ship sinking and everything after. The later parts of the book were definitely more outlandish, but really the whole story is, so who knows where the line should be drawn between fact and fiction.

I found myself waiting for the tiger to come into play during the first part of the book, similar to my impatience with The Handmaid's Tale. I think the cover-art is what brought this feeling on—it's a bird's eye view of Pi and Richard Parker on the boat, surrounded by sharks and turtles. I wasn't expecting to have to deal with all the other animals first, but they were a nice surprise.

Whenever I read a book that was made into a movie someone always asks if I've seen the movie. Usually the answer to that question is no. For some reason I have no problem dropping $20 here and there to buy a new book, but I won't do it to watch a movie. I've slowly been coming out of that mindset in the past year. I feel like there's a lot to gain from film, I just haven't fully tapped into that medium yet. I find it beneficial to limit myself instead of sticking my hand in every cookie jar I see—the creative side in me is always begging to try out new stuff. That being said I will watch the movie eventually.

A final takeaway: Watch your current situation and don't let yourself get used to bad habits or anything unhealthy. Humans can get used to anything, even shark infested waters. At the same time don't be so put off by change, for the same rule applies.