25 Points: Life of Pi

Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Knopf Canada, 2001
336 pages / $15.95 buy from Powell’s








1. Here’s a secret: I didn’t know what to think after finishing Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

2. …I still don’t.

3. And I was baffled when I read reviews (tons of them) saying things like “omg this book will make you believe in God,” and “after reading Life of Pi, you’ll definitely never want to eat another animal again.” What the fuck? I thought I was reading a book.

4. Anyway, I guess it doesn’t help either that Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) has actually (finally) turned the book into a film.

5. It’s one thing for reviewers and normal people to say things (like how I am supposed to feel about the book) but when the author actually says stuff like “Yeah, this is totally gonna change your life,” in all seriousness, I feel like doing bad things to that author.

6. But Martel doesn’t actually say anything like that and I don’t really feel like I want to actually do bad things to authors or artists—ever. Really, Martel says something more like, “This book will make you believe in God…” Something like that.

7. And who the fuck do you think you are, Yann Martel? Is this how one wins the Man Booker? Because, I don’t know.

8. Confidence is one thing but this—this is just bullshit.

9. Question though (and this is relevant, maybe): If I hate this book so much, then why am I bothering to even read it? Well, it’s pretty simple. Basically, like I said, it won the Man Booker, and unfortunately (for me,) this is/was my first Man Booker so, I sorta kinda wanted to see what all the fuss is/was about. (And also, just because I don’t like a book doesn’t mean I won’t read it!) (Let alone review it.) (Come on!). Plus, it’s being turned into a movie so…

10. Anyway, it begins as you would expect, in typical this-is-not-your-regular-story-with-white-people fashion. (Also, this is a not-your-typical-story story).

11. And thankfully, Martel expounds on these things, like: Pi’s origins, the nature of his name, his own personal religious beliefs, why his parents are the way they are, how it is he actually ends up stranded on a lifeboat by himself with a tiger and how he eventually overcomes his hardships.

12. I’m all for that (explaining stuff and telling us about the main character some) and the prose in Life of Pi is pretty easy to digest. I forgot to mention that. It’s important I think.

13. I’ll even add extra points because Martel manages to write a somewhat believable/semi-readable story with something like 200 pages on nothing-but-being-in-the-middle-of-the-fucking-ocean! On a lifeboat! With a tiger! That’s not easy to do.

14. But a Man Booker can’t be all perfect, I guess. I did say semi-readable. (Oh well). There definitely are some issues with the story.

15. For instance, there’s the repetition; and, naturally, a lot of introspective monologue-ing and a few boring bits that drag on needlessly but I did like the feeling of eavesdropping on this kid who is trapped in the middle of the ocean with a tiger. It was sort of interesting and different.

16. And talking about the different stages of dehydration, coupled with the process of clothes rotting off Pi’s body because of salt and too much sun—that was all also very good. Martel obviously did some research.

17. I won’t spoil the ending (the big ending that is supposed to make you believe in God) but even though I am unsatisfied with the story as a whole, I do have to say I enjoyed the ending, a little—alright, no, quite a bit actually. And it was sort of what I expected/was expecting from a story like this, but also, not at all.

18. There’s a sort of surprise at the end. And that’s what really makes everything worth it, perhaps. And the thing that happens is the type of thing that makes you either really hate the book or love it even more. Yeah. It’s like a mini-twist. (Borderline M. Night Shyamalan-style).

19. Maybe this is the best of all the Man Booker books, I don’t know (yet). (Though I guess I should confess that I absolutely hated the ending the first time. It’s the type of ending that grows on you—whether you end up liking it or not).

20. But I digress. Life of Pi is something I would give/have given an even 3 (out of 5 stars) because the bits about the author (at the very beginning and throughout) are unbearable, and the way Martel describes the lifeboat sequences, and how Pi manages to separate himself from the tiger for so long—it’s all very boring. Also, it is confusing (and maybe I am too dumb to understand this or there is just too much boat terminology in the book or maybe I was too distracted by something happening to me in real life during those sequences, I’m not totally sure) but a good 100 pages could have been cut from this prize-winning book. And I like that Martel takes a weird premise and sort of does his own thing with it, that’s cool—but it’s also not that cool.

21. Like how Martel tries to push (his) religion onto me. Very not cool.

22. I’d like to think I’ve already made my decision about that and shame on you (Martel) for telling me I will believe in God after reading your book!

23. (Great marketing ploy though! People love to prove they cannot be proved wrong).

24. I also think, sometimes though, that maybe everything in the book just went over my head. Like the ending… and the boat parts.

25. But then, I think: nah, probably not.

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  1. Daniel Bailey

      wtf is a man booker

  2. pauljessup


      What it changed it into I’ll never tell. Perhaps an iguana.

  3. Kelly Musselman

      Yeah, what the fuck is a man booker?

  4. deadgod
  5. deadgod

      The “Man Booker”, often called ‘the Booker’, is an annual prize for a new English-language novel published, pretty much, in the non-USA native-English-speaking world. (Nationality isn’t the issue–except for American writers, who are Not Welcome. The thinking for that is that a) Americans have plenty of literary prizes that non-American English-language writers aren’t practically or actually eligible for, and b) American cultural power would condemn a world-wide English-language novel prize to over-representation by American writers. Also, c) Americans are Bad People–uniquely guilty.)

      Here’s a list of Booker winners whose quality I can recommend at least pretty highly (Farrell, Fitzgerald, and Mantel are three of my favorite writers): In a Free State, The Siege of Krishnapur, The Sea, the Sea, Offshore, Rites of Passage, Midnight’s Children, Life & Times of Michael K, Hotel du Lac, Possession, The Famished Road, and Wolf Hall.

      Other Booker winners will be known by reputation or, even better, first-hand experience by HTMLG readers, I’d be surprised to learn is false.

      Many novels become well- or at least better known by being on the Booker long- and short-lists; the best example I can think of right now is Cloud Atlas.

      It’s not a bad idea to check at least the short descriptions of books that get nominated for such prizes for additions to the To-Read Tower. There are way too many good books ever to get to, but why not rule in as many as possible into one’s near future?

  6. Mike Kleine

      The Man Booker is a prize that is awarded (every year) to any writer who is a citizen of Zimbabwe, Ireland, or the Commonwealth of Nations (50+ independent sovereign states).

      I just found out about this prize a few months ago–it is a bit unknown state-side, I guess.

      (The book was purchased during my stint in France earlier this year so I think I have the EU version… It has ‘winner of THE Man BOOKER PRIZE 2002’ written on the bottom of the front cover. Also, I have the sweet cover, with: the blue water and the dolphins and the fish you can see thru the water and Pi all curled up in the back of the boat).

  7. deadgod

      Damn it – you’re right — at least, according to wikipedia’s Booker page. It’s the citizenship of the writers, and not the location of the books’ first publication, that’s the entry requirement.

  8. Mike Kleine

      Yes, exactly.

  9. Mike Kleine

      Yes–it’s all about your passport country for this one.

      Though, in your very excellent post discussing ‘the Booker’ you highlight the several reasons Americans are not included. Very true and also, very valid/important–something I failed to mention.

  10. deadgod

      Snip snap snup. (Not exactly “exactly”, ha ha.)

  11. Mike Kleine


  12. Mike Kleine

      I did not know this. Very interesting.

  13. deadgod

      Well, we – I’m American – do have our prizes, and Africans, Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans, Australians, Pacific Islanders, and all whom I’ve failed to mention do read our literary and commercial best-sellers without this prize. It’s not a perfect thing, the Booker–it’s a prize – somehow ridiculous to respect much without further inspection–, but look at the titles of winners: it’s worth a bit of attention.

  14. Taylor Napolsky

      This book is pretty good. I really liked it when I read it, and I still have fond memories of it. I like the part with that crazy island. The movie looks dumb to me though.

  15. Gabriel Wainio-Théberge

      Wow. I didn’t realize Yann Martel was such a dick.

      He visited my school once but just seemed kind of flaky.

  16. Don

      I wrote Yann Martel a letter, and he wrote back. We traded a few letters about Adorno and the Shoah. It was weird.

  17. Alex Miller

      Not sure what to expect from a Life of Pi movie. Sometimes Ang Lee gives us The Ice Storm, and sometimes he gives us the Hulk. I’m hoping this is more Ice Storm. Except with a tiger and flesh-eating Island.