Now that I’ve read Life of Pi…
I blogged a couple of months ago about the most recent book my bookclub was reading (Life of Pi by Yann Martel) and how I wasn’t looking forward to reading it, even though I’m one of the ones who voted for it. I finally finished it last night, almost 48 hours after our bookclub met to discuss it. Yes, I had the book in hand nearly two months, and still hadn’t finished it (though I was 7/8 of the way done) when we got together.
I found it… difficult to read, but not for the reasons I had supposed, previous to actually reading it. I had heard that it was heavy on allegory, and I have an Allegory Spotting Disorder; it’s just hard for me to discern that sort of thing, so I tend not to enjoy books of that nature. (Now that I’ve read it, I’ve decided that the book is not so much allegorical as philosophical.)
A few reviews on Amazon have mentioned the “unrealistic” nature of the book. That wasn’t my problem either; I have no problems vaulting myself into a world in which I need to willingly suspend disbelief. Where else to do that other than fiction? It’s not as if Martel was writing nonfiction (though the way he presents the story, it surely would make some wonder).
However, I did have a few problems with the book, which led to my ultra-slowness in reading it. (Though I tried and tried and tried. I’d pick it up and read two pages, five pages, ten pages at a time, and I just couldn’t get into it. Well, once I was about halfway in, it did pick up, and I read more quickly.)
- I found it difficult to care about the main character, Pi. It’s not for want of details regarding his life; Martel did an excellent job of character development. It’s just that… in order for me to really get into a book, it’s important for me that I actually care about whom I’m reading, and I felt rather ambivalent towards Pi until pretty much the very end of the book.
- I found myself feeling manipulated. MEGA-manipulated. Now, I do not suggest that writers should try to write without bias; we all have different backgrounds and beliefs, and it’s ridiculous to ask a writer to simply put those aside and be entirely neutral. However, I do have a problem when the motives of a fiction writer seem — to me — to be overt, even if I share their opinions!! I don’t want to be pushed into anything, cajoled into anything, argued or even reasoned into anything, especially when I’m reading fiction! Just tell me your story, and if it’s strong, it’ll stand, and it will probably affect me, perhaps even deeply! But, when the “main character” is continually spouting religious, philosophical and/or political opinions or whatever opinions in a dogmatic way… Ugh. It’s just hard for me to read. I feel like I’m being preached at by the author. That’s why I have three brand-new Christian novels — given to me by the publisher — sitting, unread, on my shelf, even though I’m passionately a Christian. I just don’t read fiction in order to form (or even inform) my views on religion. Fiction’s just not where I’m gonna go to delve deeper into philosophy. And, it bothers me when an author tries to subtlely/not-so-subtlely tries to sway me to his side of the political fence — or whatever fence he’s interested in. I don’t want to be an author’s convert. Or a filmmaker’s. Or whomever’s. And, especially when Mr. Martel is selling religious pluralism… Double ugh. I’m just not buying that. I have no problem reading about an Indian boy’s attempt to discover God wherever he can — in Hinduism, in Islam, in Christianity. But the conclusions which “he” draws (I say “he” because, though it’s from the main character’s thoughts, it’s surely, actually, Mr. Martel’s perspectives, mainly about all roads leading to God), I just don’t agree with, and it bothers me that Yann Martel is preaching thusly to the masses.
- Oddly, something that bothered me about the book is its extreme masculinity. Extreme. It’s not that I minded (so much) stories about animal violence and bloodshed; it’s just that a woman author, when observing a rat flying through the air, wouldn’t likely notice that rat’s privates, and even if she did notice them, wouldn’t write about them in detail. Or use the word “piss” unceasingly. I hadn’t really thought about it until I was halfway done with the book, but without trying to, pretty much all of the authors I’ve read in the last few years are female. Not all, but a vast majority. Not that I’m wanting everything all pink and sparkly and lacy and tender and wrapped up in a lovely package; I adore action and adventure and sports and the outdoors, and generally eschew chick flicks and chick lit… But, some women write from a completely different sensibility than some men, and Martel’s sensibility (and values) grate against my own.
All that said, I heard that M. Night Shyamalan has purchased the movie rights to the book, and I think it could be a stellar movie, especially given the very Shyamalan-ish plot twist at the end, which leaves one questioning the “reality” of the book and its main story. Oh, whoops, upon reading the Wikipedia entry on the book, apparently, Shyamalan is not going to be making a movie of it, apparently because of the plot twist, and that if he made the movie, people would expect a plot twist. ??? Um, OK. (By the way, do not read the Wiki article if you plan on reading the book, because it gives everything away in the first couple of paragraphs.) I actually do hope that someone will make a movie of it.
And, I can’t say that I regret reading the book, though I’m glad it’s behind me. And, if the three points above wouldn’t bother you, you may find it an entirely worthwhile read. I think of the six of us who discussed the book in our bookclub, I liked it the least.
I’m very glad for our next book: Lilith, by George MacDonald. I adore George MacDonald, though I think all of his books that I’ve read, heretofore, have been either children’s books, or his (non-fiction, Christian) essays. He definitely had his own views on things, but never seems preachy. He was a great influence on C.S. Lewis; many thanks to him for that. Lewis, in his own fiction, writes with a similar non-preachy sensibility, even when being deeply religious and/or philosophical.