Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Come aboard if your destination is oblivion.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
I started writing out bullet points for myself to keep track of the story, and when I looked back, I thought it made a poignant (if rather succinct) summary. But I like doing this first line, so I'll do it first - Life of Pi is a young boy's story of adventure, heartache, loss, and rediscovery. If you haven't heard of it, it is probably not about what you think it is about. (hint: no geometry skills required!)

Here goes!
  • Zoo; Pondicherry; India; Home, Family
  • Religion - Muslim - Hindu - Christian
  • Selling animals - cargo ship TsimTsum
  • Ship sinks; family dies
  • Hyena eats zebra; hyena eats orangutan; Richard Parker eats hyena
  • Long trip for Richard Parker and Pi
  • Pi loses eyesight
  • Odd man; dies/eaten by Richard Parker
  • Weird carnivorous island
  • Return to the ocean
  • Mexico
  • Story to disbelieving but polite Japanese
  • Canada
PS - Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Did you like that? It's over quite quickly, isn't it? Thoughts, in no real order...

-Useless chapter markings - Apparently the author wanted exactly 100 chapters (I know this because he pointed it out at one point in the book) which I thought a bit odd because I found the chapter markings to be completely meaningless. Often they were very short, occasionally they represented a time change, but all in all, not my favorite use of chapter delineations, and I'm not sure what the obsession with 100 was. Now if there were exactly 3.14....

-On Pi's father's switch from the hotel industry to zookeeping - "A natural transition, you might think. Not so. In many ways, running a zoo is a hotelkeeper's worst nightmare.  Consider: the guests never leave their rooms; they expect not only lodging but full board; they receive a constant flow of visitors, some of whom are noisy and unruly. One has to wait until they saunter to their balconies, so to speak, before one can clean their rooms, and then one has to wait until they tire of the view and return to their rooms before one can clean their balconies; and there is much cleaning to do, for the guests are as unhygienic as alcoholics.  Each guest is very particular about his or her diet, constantly complains about the slowness of the service, and never, ever tips. To speak frankly, many are sexual deviants, either terribly repressed and subject to explosions of frenzied lasciviousness or openly depraved, in either case regularly affronting management with gross outrages of free sex and incest. Are these the sorts of guests you would want to welcome to your inn?" heh. heh. heh. 

-In case you're wondering, Monsieur Pi Patel gives himself the nickname because he was named after the French word for a pool (piscine) and, can you guess what the boys like to change piscine to? Here's a hint - it starts with p and rhymes with hissing. Ohh, little rapscallious boys ;)

-On the abominable habits of zoo visitors: "Just beyond the ticket booth Father had painted on a wall in bright red letters the question: DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE ZOO? An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so many eager, curious hands that pulled at the curtain that we had to replace it regularly. Behind it was a mirror."

-Things I was Not a particular fan of: (1) the multi-layered time construct to tell the story. The story was told through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards that mostly left me confused, rather than appropriately mystified to see what was next. Perhaps if it had been done a bit more carefully I would have liked it? If you can't really pick up on what's happening in the flashforwards, you end up having to re-read the book (which is basically like putting a movie trailer for your own movie in the middle of the movie. Snobbish.) (2) the slightly "holier than thou" tone of the religious portions. I enjoyed the role religion played in Pi's life, but I was a bit offended by the narrator's presumption that we're all "coming back to religion" at some point in our lives. Perhaps some of us simply don't take to it, Pi. It's not a boomerang!

-On killing a Dorado fish and watching it change color (yes, Do look it up! it's Crazy looking!) - "I felt I was beating a rainbow to death."

-The banana incident - This was one of my favorite scenes in the book. These Japanese officers come to interview Pi to find out what happened with the ship (since Pi was the only survivor) and they have some trouble believing Pi's story, particularly the early events where he passes by some floating bananas just after the ship has sunk. Here's a tidbit:

"Mr. Patel, we don't believe your story."
"I'm amazed. Why not?"
"It doesn't hold up."
"What do you mean?"
"Bananas don't float." of all the crazy parts of Pi's story (ahem, carnivorous island!) this is the one they take issue with.
"Yes, they do."
"They're too heavy."
"No, they're not. Here. Try for yourself. I have two bananas right here." Pi has been hoarding food in his hospital bed.
"In Japanese: Where did those come from? What else does he have under his bedsheet?"
"No, that's all right."
"There's a sink over there."
"That's fine."
"I insist. Fill that sink with water, drop these bananas in, and we'll see who's right."
"We'd like to move on."
"I absolutely insist."
[Sound of a chair being pushed back. Distant sound of water gushing out of a tap]
"What's happening? I can't see from here."
"I'm filling the sink."
"Have you put the bananas in yet?"
"And now?"
"They're in."
"In Japanese: "Are they floating? They're floating."
"So, are they floating?"
"They're floating."
"Could I have my bananas back now, please?" heh heh heh.

Passages I particularly enjoyed:
-- "But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud."

-- "It was on my own, a guilty pleasure, that I returned to the sea, beckoned by the mighty waves that crashed down and reached for me in humble tidal ripples, gentle lassos that caught their willing Indian boy." on being taught how to swim in a pristine pool, and then "slumming it" in the ocean ;)

--"The riot of flowers is incessant."

--"It was after school that I discovered in a leisurely way what it's like to have an elephant search your clothes in the friendly hope of finding a hidden nut, or an orang-utan pick through your hair for tick snacks, its wheeze of disappointment at what an empty pantry your head is." an empty pantry inDeed!

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

--"I knew very little about the religion. It had a reputation for few gods and great violence." on Christianity

--"I owe to Hinduism the original landscape of my religious imagination, those towns and rivers, battlefields and forests, holy mountains and deep seas where gods, saints, villains, and ordinary people rub shoulders, and, in doing so, define who and why we are."

--"The sun was beginning to pull the curtains on the day. It was a placid explosion of orange and red, a great chromatic symphony, a colour canvas of supernatural proportions..."

--"At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and the far."

--When the Japanese officers ask for the "real" story: "I know what you want. You want a story that won't surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won't make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality."

I don't know whether this one will live on as a classic, but I think it definitely stands a better chance than some of the other contemporary fiction on this list. A nice blend of some lovely prose and a good tale - worth the read if you have the time and inclination.

I'll end with one of my other favorite lines -- "Now I will turn miracle into routine."

Off I go, to turn grad school miracle after grad school miracle into routine! Onwards to Endslog. Or was it Beginningtramp? I'll think of it one of these days...

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