I’m a few years late in reading this book, after it got super popular around 2012 when the movie adaptation was released. This book was everywhere back then! And I’m not even exaggerating. You’d see ads and posters for it. The movie won a bunch of Academy Awards, and the book was featured in pretty much every bookstore. You could not go anywhere in the book community without hearing something about this book.
But this is me we’re talking about, and I usually ignore hype. But now, eight years later, I bought this book at the Goodwill and finally read it. It’s…disturbing and I had pretty mixed feeling about the book.
Synopsis: The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel travels with his family and animals from India to Canada on a Japanese freighter ship. However, on the journey the ship sinks and Pi is left with only four companions on a lifeboat: a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a massive tiger named Richard Parker. For 227 days he is lost at sea and must use his wits to survive.
I feel like I could jump straight into spoilers, because so much of my view of this book is formed by the ending. However, I’m going to try to convey my overall thoughts without spoiling anything. My opinion is probably an unpopular one, because so many people love this book. I didn’t hate it, but I found it to be just okay. The ending is the only part which was actually good (and I had the ending spoiled for me well before I read the book). The story is slow-moving, and many of the scenes are gruesome. It felt as if the author was describing the violence simply to describe the violence, with little purpose. For example, at one point Pi kills a sea turtle and eats it to survive, but the level of detail given to this scene is disgusting. Besides a few important plot-points at the beginning of Part II, there isn’t much that actually happens in this story. I found it similar to Robinson Crusoe where surviving in the wilderness alone makes for a pretty boring story. Pi is a great character, don’t get me wrong, and some of the descriptions are breathtaking and sensory, but I really struggled to finish this book. The best part of the book is probably the examinations of different philosophies of life, but adding philosophy in a book does not make it great.
Honestly, I feel like anything else I say is going to give away something, so I’m just going to jump straight into the spoiler section.
The book is divided into three sections. Part I talks of Pi’s early life, from when his family bought a Zoo in India to his education (he got in trouble for wanting to be Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim all at the same time). Although Part I is philosophical and gives an explanation for Pi’s choice of story later on, I found it pretty boring. I personally would have preferred it being woven into Part II, which takes up the bulk of the book and is Pi’s story on the life boat.
Part II starts about a hundred pages in, with the sinking of the ship. It begins with Pi being on the boat with the four animals. The hyena kills both the zebra and the orangutan and then the tiger kills the hyena. After that, the story gets pretty monotonous as Pi works to survive and gain the trust of his tiger acquaintance. The story gets stranger and stranger as it continues (like discovering a strange island with meerkats and acid at night), probably signifying Pi losing his mind. Finally, he washes up on the coast in Mexico and is saved.
Part III takes up the last twenty or so pages of the book, where two Japanese men come to question Pi about his experience. This is when the real story is relieved.
And massive SPOILER!
The animals are not real, the hyena was a sadist human cook who murdered a Taiwanese sailor (the zebra) by cutting off his leg. Pi’s mother (the orangutan) fought with the cook and he stabbed her to death. The biggest twist is that Pi was the tiger. Pi picks up the knife and then kills the cook.
Yep, that’s the big twist.
Then Pi asks the men, “Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?” They both agree the one with animals, and Pi says, “And so it goes with God.” In a sense, in order to deal with his grief and horror after killing an evil man and watching two others die, he created this animal story to keep his sanity. This was the best, and in my view the only, great part of the book.
I can see why so many people like this book, because the twist at the end is great, but a good twist ending does not make a good book. There were aspects of this book which I liked, but I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it.
Have you read this book, or seen the movie? Does it look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,