A lot of people ask me why I hated Life of Pi. I do explain it on some occasions, but I never properly reviewed this book. This is not really a proper review, either, but it does explain exactly why I hate this book for those that are curious.
It was such a beautiful story. I was in love with it while reading. Following Pi on his epic adventure, watching him deal with surviving on a life boat with a tiger and using his previous training at the zoo to help him was so amazing. I knew this wasn't a true story and it was obviously far fetched, but it was believable in so many ways because of the way it was told and the way it was written. It was fantastic.
NOTE: If you haven't read this book, I recommend that you no longer continue reading my review. It contains massive spoilers.
This book is much better read without any bias or prior judgments. I'm so thankful that my grandmother refused to tell me her thoughts about it until after I was done. Once finished, I was relieved to hear that she felt the same way about the book as I did. The ending ruined it for her, too.
I hate this book more than I've ever hated a book in my whole life. I threw the book when I was done reading. And most people that know me and my taste in literature are so shocked when they hear this. Why on earth would I hate this book? It's such a beautiful story. I know. It was.
Spoiler alert for all things written below. Do not continue unless you have already read this book or you aren't ever going to.
Pi is eventually rescued by the Japanese. Once he's safely on land, he is in an interrogation room and the Japanese are asking him what happened when the ship started sinking. From this point on, my love for this book ended. I will first explain what happened and then I will explain why it bothered me so much.
Pi explains his story to the Japanese the same way the reader has just experienced his journey. The Japanese interrogators are skeptical. They also want to find out if Pi knows what happened to the ship and how it sank. For some reason, they keep egging Pi on and demanding that he starts telling the truth. So he does. This is the pivotal moment in the book. Pi tells the truth about what really happened. There were never any animals on the life boat. There were people. And each animal represents the people on the boat. The tiger represents Pi. When the animals attack each other in the beginning of the book, these are people. This a group of survivors that have turned to the most horrible things any group of survivors can do. We've heard these stories before, like those about the Donner Party.
When authors create a giant twist like this, I can appreciate it. It's clever. Of course it makes you mad for a second, especially after reading hundreds of pages of a story only to find out it didn't happen at all like it was written.
The real story takes place on just a couple of pages. It's not descriptive. Pi tells the true story without any sort of descriptions. Just the facts. That was a bit aggravating, but I didn't hate the book yet. I thought this was an interesting and somewhat clever twist.
And then this: (The first line is Pi speaking)
"I told you two stories that account for the 227 days in between."
"Yes, you did."
"Neither explains the sinking of the Tsimtsum."
"Neither makes a factual difference to you."
"You can't prove which story is true and which is not. You must take my word for it."
"I guess so."
"In both stories the ship sinks, my entire family dies, and I suffer."
"Yes, that's true."
"So tell me, since it makes no factual different to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?"
Mr. Okamoto: "That's an interesting question..."
Mr. Chiba: "The story with animals."
Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, the story with animals is the better story."
Pi Patel: "Thank you. And so it goes with God."
This whole passage is a complete leap of logic to me. First of all, any story you tell with energy and descriptions and effort and wonder will be the better story. When you spend 2 pages telling the real story with NONE of these, of course it's not the better story. Had you, however, spent all 300 something pages telling the TRUE story WITH descriptions and wonder and effort, it would have been just as good if not better than the story with the animals. Survival stories that are true are amazing and interesting to lots of people. That the author has the audacity to try and say otherwise bothers me so much. How dare you try and tell people that truth has no beauty, that truth is not the better story? How dare you advocate that! As a lover of fiction, I have no qualms with made up stories, but not like this.
This whole passage just makes me angry. As much as I love imagination and fiction, I have always thought it should be told as such and not under the guise of truth. After all, integrity is incredibly important to me. We all get mad when people lie and embellish the truth and what the author and Pi Patel are trying to say is that if the end result is the same, it doesn't matter. I think it does! It's one thing is a book begins with "based on a true story" when it's obviously fiction or it's written by a character in the book, like the I Am Number Four books by Pittacus Lore, because it's just creating a mood. It's not really trying to be the truth.
I'm not really sure what to make of Pi's logic in connection to religion. If he's saying that we are all here (that being the end result) and religion gives us the story of how we got here and science gives us another, we should pick the better story, I have a problem with that. I'm not sure that's really what he means, but it could certainly be interpreted that way. My grandmother interpreted it this way and was very put off by the meaning. We should believe in God because it's more interesting than any other options? That's offensive to believers in God. I'm not religious myself, but even I took issue with this. As I said, I'm not really sure that's what Pi is trying to say here, but I certainly hope not. Whether you believe in God or not, I would hope it has nothing to do with simply siding with whatever is the better story. It's whatever you think is the truth, right?!
I don't think people should ever walk around believing something or telling a story about something knowing it's not the truth and parading it around as such because it SOUNDS better. In a world where not many people are honest, I think most people are bothered by lies being presented as truth. I know I am. And this book advocates it.
And that is why I hate this book.
Perhaps, you might argue, I'm looking too much into it or I'm interpreting it harshly. Maybe you are right. Unfortunately, it got under my skin and I can't undo that.
Perhaps it's more like telling fairy tales to children. You know, beautiful in that sense and less about the fact that you are parading fiction as truth. Maybe it's as innocent as a child believing in Santa. And I'm being far too critical and harsh. After all, I love fantasy and fairy tales, but I also like truth and integrity and reading is straddling that line. When I'm reading, I can imagine for a minute that these things are real, but I know they aren't. There's a fine balance there for me.
Some things bother me, some things don't. I truly understand this perspective and it is why I continue to recommend this book when I don't think people will react the way I did. It is a beautiful book and I understand why people love it and why people aren't as bothered by it. Unfortunately, I still stand by my interpretation and opinion. I still hate this book, even when I'm trying not to.