Life of Pi by Yann Martel is one of those books that I'd heard a ton about without really hearing anything. Everyone told me I had to read it, and its critics bolstered those calls of encouragement. To this day, I haven't seen a single bad review. So, naturally, I went out and bought a copy.
Four years ago.
Like I said, despite all the buzz, I couldn't muster the motivation to read it. I didn't really know what to expect from it, and I was wary, especially because of the religious under-(and over)-tones that were so prominent in all I had heard. Even one of the characters claims that this is "a story that will make you believe in God." That line alone made me not want to read it--I wasn't about to be preached to.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't view Life of Pi as a religious novel myself. Part I has some points that are a little heavy on the God-talk for my taste, but it was in such a way that it was humorous and sweet. How can it not be when a young boy trying to find his beliefs tricks three different religious figures into thinking he's devout in their particular religion, when really, he's running around Pondicherry, India practicing all three? I found Pi's religious curiosity endearing, and Part I did a thorough job all around of making me feel for the clever boy and by the end of the section, I was invested in Pi's story.
Part I, however, also made me almost put down the book and not pick it back up. The story started off very slowly, with the alternating narratives of young Pi and a reporter visiting Pi in his old age taking me out of the story I enjoyed (young Pi's) and transplanting me into the present day where the writing and action both felt stagnant and staid. Just as I'd be really engaging with the story, it would pull me out. It was frustrating and I almost gave up on Pi as a result.
Part II, however, was surprisingly redeeming, and not so much about religion as it was about having faith and persevering . I was amazed at how compelled I could be by almost complete narration and almost no dialogue. Martel's writing in this part was skillful--albeit a little too graphic at times--and his storytelling profoundly engaging. The interaction between Pi and Richard Parker--the Bengel Tiger stranded on a lifeboat with his 16-year-old self after their cargo ship, the Tsimtsum, sinks--is intriguing. Pi's ability to prevail, to train Richard Parker, to just survive and not give up is immensely powerful. I felt a tremendous amount of admiration for him and his journey. Part II did drag at times given the repetitive nature of being lost at sea, but for the most part, Pi held me in rapt attention.
Part III was a nice change of pace, with Pi back on land and some hysterical and entertaining dialogue with representatives of the Japanese shipping company who owned the Tsimtsum. I had a fantastic time reading this bit and it contained perhaps the most thought-provoking moment for me with the novel when Pi asks tells and alternate story to explain what happened to him on the lifeboat and asks the businessmen which story they like best and which they believe. I had never for a second imagined that Pi's story wasn't real, despite it's fantastical elements. It left me with a nice "hmmm" when I read the last page.
The Last Word: A compelling and unique tale of adventure, faith, and perseverence through the most hopeless of circumstances. Just watch out for such graphic descriptions that yo might want to vomit.