Life of Pi

Last night I finished reading Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. It reminded me why I don’t like reading literature. It was a very good book but left me profoundly disturbed at the end. However, this seems to be what great literature aims to do. I will grudgingly admit that there is some merit in the approach but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

If you plan to read Life of Pi, you probably shouldn’t read the rest of my post. I will be vague but my thoughts will probably still count as spoilers.

The book is divided into three sections: Pi’s early life, his survival on the ocean after his ship sank, and his recooperation in a hospital and recounting his adventures to investigators. I liked the book tolerably well right up to the end when Pi is recounting his adventures in the hospital. In the hospital, Pi tells the investigators the story we have been reading. The investigators don’t believe the story can possibly be real. Then, after being pressed, Pi tells an alternate version of the story that is both plausible and terrible. The reader is encouraged to believe the story they like best is the “true” story.

At one point within the story we learn the protagonist, after recovering in the hospital, goes on to get married and have two children. Thus, we are assured that the story ends well. However, the end of the book stops shortly after the horrible alternative story. In this, I suppose, it is the opposite of romances I usually read. In a genre romance you are guaranteed a happy ending1. Of course, we all know that if the story continued the couple wouldn’t always be madly in love with each other and are bound to disagree once or twice, even in the best marriage. In Life of Pi we know that the protagonist ends up having a good life but that isn’t the note the story ends on.

However unrealistic it may be, I strongly prefer my books end with unambiguously happy endings. Yes, you can pretend Life of Pi ends happily as long as you forget about 9 of the 319 pages. I have not watched the movie but the impressions I’ve gotten from reading reviews is that the movie ends a bit more unambiguously than the book. I’m not sure if this is true or not. However, if I do watch the movie, I’ll walk away once Pi lands in Mexico and Richard Parker, the tiger, walks away.

Ah well, it was a good experience for me. I don’t regret reading the book, exactly, I just wouldn’t ever have chosen to pick it up if I had known about those 9 pages.

  1. Romance Writers of America officially defines the ending of a romance as “Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic”. Apparently “happy ending” is just too boring a description.

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