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Perks
04-25-2006, 06:10 PM
It's been a while, but I love this book so much. I had a fascinating conversation on it once that led me to ponder: what if Richard Parker was just a mental contruct for Pi? A metaphor for his fear that there was no god. The story worked interestingly around that point.

Any comments?

aruna
04-25-2006, 06:39 PM
It's been a while, but I love this book so much. I had a fascinating conversation on it once that led me to ponder: what if Richard Parker was just a mental contruct for Pi? A metaphor for his fear that there was no god. The story worked interestingly around that point.

Any comments?

I loved it too, but I read it so long ago... this is an interesting concept. I'll think about it some more, but I'd really need to read the book again...

Perks
04-25-2006, 06:49 PM
Lol! Me too. I remember thinking I was a freakin' genius for looking at it that way, but alas, the speck of grey matter that was my trophy has let it slip away. <sigh>

If anyone has read it recently, speak up! It may help me relive my glory days.

AdamH
04-25-2006, 06:56 PM
Loved the story. One of my all-time favourite novels. One of the most unexpected endings. Didn't see it coming. (Not sure how much info to release here since it could be considered a spoiler to those who haven't read it)

But your question is a little above my head right now. Like Aruna, I'll have to reread it and get back to you.

Perks
04-25-2006, 07:00 PM
Yeah, I think we're goint to have to be okay with spoilers in here. I'll make a note of it in the guidelines.

Sarita
04-25-2006, 07:03 PM
What a great book. And a great question. It's been a couple years since I've read it, but you could be on to something, considering all of his struggles with religion. But I don't think his question was so much "Does god exist?" as it was "Why should there be only ONE way to worship god, if there are good people in all the religions I've explored?" I loved his reaction when the different clergy found out he was two timing them.

Perks
04-25-2006, 07:06 PM
That's what led me there. He was searching for god in so many places, that when everything went wrong and he was left adrift, I think his greatest fear could have been that there was no god at all.

The way he tamed Richard Parker and held the beast at bay... I don't know. Could have been an entirely philosophical struggle.

Sarita
04-25-2006, 07:10 PM
I definitely think it was a philosophical struggle. Could it have been his desire for survival pitted against the knowledge of certain death outside the boat and almost certain death inside the boat?

I had some great ideas about it after I read it, but hellifIknow what they are now. A group of friends all read it at the same time and we got together for coffee to talk about the book. It was one of the best book discussions I've ever been involved in. Makes me want to read the book again.

Perks
04-25-2006, 07:11 PM
Same here. I may dig it out.

Sarita
04-25-2006, 07:13 PM
It might be a good idea to start by reading the questions in the back of the book and then have those thoughts firmly in mind when reading the book again. I remember reading the Q's afterward and thinking "How did I miss that?" and going back to look at passages.

maestrowork
04-25-2006, 11:37 PM
It was as slow read for me (very slow) but deeply profound and beautifully written.

Julie Worth
04-25-2006, 11:47 PM
After the opening, I found it tedious and gave up.

CaroGirl
04-25-2006, 11:56 PM
I loved it. It's the most original and challenging work I've read. Of course, I read it a couple of years ago, so I'm not sure about commenting on the philosophical nature of it. I agree that Richard Parker was a manifestation of his subconscious mind.

What do you think was the point of the island of meerkats?

pdr
04-28-2006, 03:50 AM
Usually I can devour a book in a day - all that time for reading while travelling on the bus!
This book is dense, so okay, it's slow reading. No problem.
Enjoyed the first third BUT am getting bogged down in the religious polemics and am not yet sure - because I haven't finished it yet - whether the book is really an allegory.

Sigh.
Can't say I'm enjoying it but it's making me think.

Perks
04-28-2006, 04:07 AM
I loved it as an adventure tale and then just wallowed in the other prospects after I was done. I knew nothing of it going in, so that may have had something to do with it.

This book has one of the greatest 'cinematic' literary moments I've ever read: when Pi is in the lifeboat while the ship is sinking and he's calling to Richard Parker to swim. He casts the rope and reels him in telling him to "pull with your eyes and I'll pull with my arms" and then he does a 180, rebuking him and telling him to go away and drown. Of course, the reader is lost because we don't know why he changed his mind. Then Martel reveals that Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger. That was awesome.

aruna
04-28-2006, 09:43 AM
I loved it as an adventure tale and then just wallowed in the other prospects after I was done. I knew nothing of it going in, so that may have had something to do with it.

This book has one of the greatest 'cinematic' literary moments I've ever read: when Pi is in the lifeboat while the ship is sinking and he's calling to Richard Parker to swim. He casts the rope and reels him in telling him to "pull with your eyes and I'll pull with my arms" and then he does a 180, rebuking him and telling him to go away and drown. Of course, the reader is lost because we don't know why he changed his mind. Then Martel reveals that Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger. That was awesome.

Just you writing about it makes my hair stand on end. A great novel moment.

Simran
04-29-2006, 03:05 AM
What do you think was the point of the island of meerkats?

This is definitely one of my top favorite books. I've read it several times and get something new out of it each time. I bought a copy for my nephew who is always reading a novel and he's only 13. It's a shame more kids aren't reading instead of playing video games. I'm looking forward to discussing it with him when he's finished with it.


The part about that island that really got to me was the "fruit".

Simran
04-29-2006, 03:15 AM
This book has one of the greatest 'cinematic' literary moments I've ever read.

It's interesting that you mentioned cinematic literary moments. I read where M. Night Shyamalan was producing it as a movie, but opted out for another film called Lady in the Water. :( Now Jean-Pierre Jeunet is doing it. Not quite sure how that's going to work out though. Guess we'll have to wait and see. :Shrug:

aruna
04-29-2006, 09:27 AM
. Not quite sure how that's going to work out though. Guess we'll have to wait and see. :Shrug:

Secrets like this don't translate well into film. It will probably have to go. That's why books are better!

VeggieChick
09-13-2006, 10:38 PM
Am I the only one who hated this book?

CaroGirl
09-13-2006, 10:50 PM
Am I the only one who hated this book?
No, I don't think you are. Why anyone could hate it, however, is completely beyond me. I suppose you either "get it" or you don't.

Aubiefan
09-14-2006, 09:13 AM
I absolutely loved this book, it's probably been loaned out to more friends than any other novel I've read. I've been meaning to get my hands on his collection of short stories, but haven't gotten around to it yet, I believe the title is The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios , has anyone read it?

justpat
05-17-2007, 03:33 AM
I, too, found this too tedious after just a few chapters. Which was very disappointing because it sounded so good. I never did finish it.

Kudra
07-01-2007, 09:30 PM
I have mixed feelings about this book. The first hundred or so pages, while interesting, were lacking in action, and hence a very slow read for me. I kept wondering if it was worth going on, and I'm glad I did!

In the second part, the pace picked up, and I enjoyed it immensely. The part where he helps Richard Parker, only to tell him to go away and drown, finding the teeth on the island (ack!), and several other scenes like that made me thankful I hadn't abandoned it.

The third part, for me, was the most fun part of the book. The conversation with the Japanese officials was hilarious! And I guess, that's the part where you stop looking for the story and search for the hidden meaning. I did. Too many questions, too few answers.

Did I love it love it? Not really. But it made me think. It made me want more. I felt satisfaction after putting it down. I enjoyed it. I probably wouldn't read it again though.

Oh, and I'm no more a believer in God than I was when I started the book.

charlotte49ers
10-22-2009, 11:34 PM
I know its supposed to be great, but the synopsis just doesn't interest me at all. Tell me it's better than the book jacket!

quickWit
10-22-2009, 11:41 PM
It's better than the book jacket.

:)

Rarri
10-22-2009, 11:48 PM
It's better than the book jacket.

:)

Ditto.

Really is a great book, give it a chance. :)

charlotte49ers
10-22-2009, 11:50 PM
I guess I asked for that. : -P

But is it just a story about a kid on a boat with animals? I know there has to be more to it than that, but what? Ugh, I just can't seem to make myself buy it.

quickWit
10-22-2009, 11:52 PM
I guess I asked for that. : -P

But is it just a story about a kid on a boat with animals? I know there has to be more to it than that, but what? Ugh, I just can't seem to make myself buy it.

Oh, I have no idea. I was just being accommodating. :D

DeleyanLee
10-22-2009, 11:52 PM
So don't buy it. Borrow it from the library.

Rarri
10-22-2009, 11:55 PM
I guess I asked for that. : -P

But is it just a story about a kid on a boat with animals? I know there has to be more to it than that, but what? Ugh, I just can't seem to make myself buy it.

The simplist way of explaining the plot is this way: read the book. :D

At a very basic level, the majority of the book is about a boy on a boat with animals but it's so much more than that. Rather than blatent plagiarism, here's the link to the Amazon review: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/184195392X/ref=s9_sima_gw_s0_p14_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0X480NT8M3D6VY2X11X5&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=467128533&pf_rd_i=468294

Read it. Read it. Read it.

(All right, i admit it: i love this book.)

charlotte49ers
10-23-2009, 12:01 AM
I didn't think about checking it out, honestly. I never go to the library (aside from the one at the elementary school I teach at), though I really should.

I guess I'll give it a go, if for no other reason to say I've read it. Hopefully, I will like it as well as you have. :)

katiemac
10-23-2009, 03:36 AM
Also one of the more thought-provoking twists I've seen.

Regan Leigh
10-23-2009, 03:42 AM
I know its supposed to be great, but the synopsis just doesn't interest me at all. Tell me it's better than the book jacket!


I think it's one of John's favs. :)

Steam&Ink
10-23-2009, 04:08 AM
Yep, it's wonderful.
You might start out feeling a little like you picked up Robinson Crusoe, but it's well crafted and becomes very compelling. And if you want a book which you will read once and spend the entire following month thinking about, this is the book for you.

Kitty Pryde
10-23-2009, 04:19 AM
The end of the book will explode your brain into a million glorious and glimmering pieces. In the most awesome way possible. That's why I loved it. I can't say any more than that.

I also liked it because it's written a funny style, one I believe he swiped from RK Narayan's Malgudi novels. In case you happen to like 1960s Indian comedic novels. Which everyone should. But SRSLY, yes, you will like it.

Fenika
10-23-2009, 04:25 AM
I read it and I'm waiting for the chance to REread it. It's a wild ride, and as others pointed out, it will stay with you.

charlotte49ers
10-23-2009, 04:52 AM
I think it's one of John's favs. :)

Well, there ya go! If its my ex's favorite... lol

Ok, ok, I'll give it a shot. And when I love it and sing it's praises, you can all laugh at me for waiting this long. But then again, if I hate it, I'll be very mad at each and every one of you. ;)

Steam&Ink
10-23-2009, 04:57 AM
Well, there ya go! If its my ex's favorite... lol

Ok, ok, I'll give it a shot. And when I love it and sing it's praises, you can all laugh at me for waiting this long. But then again, if I hate it, I'll be very mad at each and every one of you. ;)

uh-oh... pressure!!

jodiodi
10-23-2009, 06:44 AM
Do any of the animals die? If so, I won't read it. If not, I might give it a go. PM me if it would be a spoiler to answer.

Fenika
10-23-2009, 06:57 AM
Minor spoiler, since it happens early on-

Most the animals die, and the humans. Thus Pi finds himself in uncertain company and otherwise alone in the middle of the ocean. Given how well the opening deals with zoo animals, it's worth the read still. Balance, ya know?

jodiodi
10-23-2009, 07:51 AM
Thanks, Fenika. Made my decision easy.

Priene
10-23-2009, 12:14 PM
I know its supposed to be great, but the synopsis just doesn't interest me at all. Tell me it's better than the book jacket!

It's a good book. Trust me.

AdamH
10-23-2009, 04:21 PM
The end of the book will explode your brain into a million glorious and glimmering pieces. In the most awesome way possible. That's why I loved it. I can't say any more than that.



This is exactly why this book rules! I thought the exact same thing.

It was a good amusing read without that ending...but after I read the ending, it became one of my favorite books I've ever read.

You think the book is about one thing...then it becomes something so much more that I didn't expect.

Go read it. Seriously.

Now...

Stop reading this...

Go...

Right now...

Alright I'm going...

Seriously.

sydney
10-26-2009, 01:02 AM
Wow okay I'm going to try to read it now :D
I never got past the first couple of pages haha

MGraybosch
10-28-2009, 02:06 AM
I know its supposed to be great, but the synopsis just doesn't interest me at all. Tell me it's better than the book jacket!

Sure. Right after I convince myself to read it. :)

john barnes on toast
10-28-2009, 05:19 PM
I thought it started very well, but I cared less and less as it went on.

Something happens about 2/3rds of the way through, and made me think 'oh, right, it's one of those books, is it?'

OK, but nothing special IMO.

melaniehoo
10-28-2009, 05:28 PM
I LOVED this book! I agree with the ending and everything else said here.

Mr. Anonymous
06-20-2010, 10:59 AM
I quite enjoyed the book but I think arguing that Richard Parker was a construct might be over-analyzing it a bit. That's not to say that you shouldn't read/interpret it that way, but it is to say that I doubt that's what the writer had in mind.

I have to say that I enjoyed the book but the ranting about agnostics, while somewhat amusing, also got under my skin a bit. And it is somewhat hard for me to believe that a kid in Pi's position wouldn't have a serious crisis of faith (which is maybe why the above-mentioned interpretation is so appealing.)

ceenindee
06-20-2010, 09:09 PM
[Heads up, fairly spoiler-ish post.]

I absolutely love this book, one of my top five. I went to one of Yann Martel's book signings just a few weeks ago. It was really interesting.

He said the reason he put the island of meerkats in there was to represent a leap of faith--something so illogical that, if you chose to believe the story with animals, you'd have to go beyond the comfort zone of probability and reason that can explain away some of the other events, like Pi surviving with a tiger and meeting another blind man in the middle of the Pacific.

He said it was interesting that there are people who would prefer the story without animals--a far more barbaric version of events--than the story with them, simply because the one without animals "makes sense." That's the religious allegory for atheism, which, as Pi says himself, is not necessarily a bad thing.

The other thing that Martel brought up which I found interesting was the idea that zoos were an allegory for religion. Pi spends a long time talking about how an animal who is offered freedom from his cage won't have any desire to leave it, just because he can. They have everything they need already. Faith is like that (according to Martel). When it's fulfilling, you don't have that desire to leave the shelter it provides. In fact, the idea that we're nothing more than chemical accidents existing for a blip of time is frightening in comparison. It's too open.

So, my interpretation with that is that when Pi was stuck with RP (assuming RP was there), it was a representation of his faith being tested. Because while the boat was a zoo, it was a far smaller, less comfortable zoo offering none of the protection he's used to. But it delivered him to safety in the end.

FWIW, Martel said he grew up in a secular home, but I got the sense he has some sort of spirituality now. He said something to the effect of, "How much do we really know about algae and how much do we really know about islands and how much do we really know about meerkats? We can't really know until the lights go out, so long as we're here, we might as well "stop being so d*** reasonable and accept the better Story."

I never questioned the animal story myself, but I think that has less to do with the fact that I'm religious and more to do with the fact that I've read and written things weirder than a cannibal island of algae overrun with meerkats. :D

For those who have trouble getting into the book, I'd recommend giving it another shot--the beginning is slow, but it really picks up once he's on the boat. The first part didn't even make sense to me until I read it again.

Captcha
06-20-2010, 10:48 PM
That's an interesting point, charlotte - I'm an atheist, and I couldn't STAND the parts of the book that didn't make sense. I was okay with the animals, sort of, but then cannibal island? Drove me right round the bend!

And I found the ending totally unsatisfying. I wanted answers, not more questions. And if there ARE no answers, fine, just admit it, don't pretend that you've actually answered something when you haven't!

So, yeah, I can see how my atheist's perspective might have influenced my reading of the book, for sure!

Mr. Anonymous
06-21-2010, 04:23 AM
I've done some more thinking, and I've come to the conclusion that my issue with LOP is that it is not JUST trying to be an entertaining adventure-type book about the time a young boy spends lost at sea. Whether Richard Parker was real or not, whether any of the animals were real or not, I think we can definitely agree that through the book and the journey Martel sets Pi on, he means us to grapple in some important way with the question of faith.

That, I think, is where LOP's aspiration toward literature is most apparent, and where, to me, it falls flat. Because the picture Martel draws is so overly-simplistic - reminds me of my main problem with the only christian fiction book I tried to read. Martel struggles with one of the most philosophically provocative, powerful questions about mankind, and all he really has to say to us, is that we should pick the BETTER story? And of course, he provides us with no real criteria for judging which is better - he assumes we agree, that the animal story is better than the non-animal story, but why? Why is it better? Because it is more unbelievable? So the more unbelievable a thing is, the better it is, the more we should believe in it?

I dunno. I think when it comes to theology and faith, Martel has surprisingly little insight to offer us (though Zoos as an allegory for faith, I will admit, is a fascinating idea.)

ceenindee
06-23-2010, 03:46 AM
Martel struggles with one of the most philosophically provocative, powerful questions about mankind, and all he really has to say to us, is that we should pick the BETTER story? And of course, he provides us with no real criteria for judging which is better - he assumes we agree, that the animal story is better than the non-animal story, but why? Why is it better? Because it is more unbelievable? So the more unbelievable a thing is, the better it is, the more we should believe in it?

Well, I don't think that was his point. But I won't pretend I'm the final say on what he meant.

My interpretation of that (rough) quote, IAC--since the outcome is the same either way, what do you lose by picking the better story? (And I didn't realize the "betterness" of the animal story was up for debate, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who preferred a bunch of humans killing each other out of spite to a bunch of animals killing each other out of hunger. More believable, you could argue, but not more desirable, I'd hope).

Think back to the last page of the book, if you remember it. Pi says, "Either way, the ship sinks, my family dies, and I suffer," or something like that. And then he says something to the effect of, "Since it makes no factual difference, which story do you prefer?" And the young man--Martel made a point of having the younger person say this; I forget why--says he likes the animal story. And then Pi's like, "And so it goes with God."

With the zoos, too, since you mention it--the idea of there being "caged" animals and "free" animals is illusion, that's what I think he was getting at. Pi talks about how animals in the wild stick to a certain territory and don't go traipsing all over the world just because they "can." Everyone limits themselves to a certain set of beliefs; some just create their own boundaries while others live in the ones that are given to them.

Anyways, I'm sure I'm the one oversimplifying all this, but I think that's the gist of it.

Mr. Anonymous
06-23-2010, 06:39 AM
charlotte, thank you for taking the time to respond to me!

Since the outcome is the same either way, what do you lose by picking the better story?

The outcome of the two stories, generally speaking, is the same, yes. But the outcome for the one who is doing the picking is NOT the same. This outcome will then go on to shape the picker's worldview. I don't think you would necessarily argue against this, but I just want to clarify on what I see as the shortcoming to Martel's argument. Each story may factually lead to the same place, but it does not lead ME to the same place.

And I didn't realize the "betterness" of the animal story was up for debate, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who *****preferred****** a bunch of humans killing each other out of spite to a bunch of animals killing each other out of hunger. More believable, you could argue, but not more *****desirable*****, I'd hope).

Aha. Do you see what you did? You used the words "preferred" and "desirable" interchangeably with the word "better." But maybe that is not how I define better. What someone means by the word better is generally subjective (which is why, if Martel wants to argue something is objectively better, he needs to either establish an objective criteria or argue successfully on every subjective front.)

Let me give you two examples.

1) Hypothetically speaking, lets say the human story is true and Pi merely came up with the animal story as a sort of defense/coping mechanism. For him, clearly, in terms of his survival and quite possibly his psychological well-being, the animal story may be the preferable.

But the Japanese investigators are not concerned with what Pi prefers. They have a report to make, and they are concerned with the facts. They want to know what happened. They are not interested in the story that is "preferable" or "desirable." They are interested in the story that is TRUE. Since they were not there to witness the events themselves, and therefore cannot know for themselves, the better story for them is the story that is the story that is most likely.

Think back to the last page of the book, if you remember it. Pi says, "Either way, the ship sinks, my family dies, and I suffer," or something like that. And then he says something to the effect of, "Since it makes no factual difference, which story do you prefer?" And the young man--Martel made a point of having the younger person say this; I forget why--says he likes the animal story. And then Pi's like, "And so it goes with God."

But that's the thing, isn't it? What happened happened, sure, no factual difference there. But as I said before, the crucial difference is rather in how the person thinks about what happened. What the person chooses to believe is better, and why. Does he choose the story he likes the most because he likes it the most, or does he choose the story that he feels is closest to the truth/that he feels most likely, because he is concerned with the truth?

Let me give you another example.

2) You are familiar with social contract theory, I'm sure. I give up the right to some things if everyone in the society gives up the right to those same things. This makes morality reciprocal on the basis of self-interest. I don't engage in murder, because I myself wish to be protected from murder. I obey the law, because I want everyone else to obey the law, because I want to be protected.

There are a fair number of people, especially in the atheistic camp, who believe just that, in itself, is the full picture of morality. They believe the only thing that compels us to be moral is self-interest.

For a long time, I believed this too. I did not believe this because I preferred it, or found it desirable. In fact, I found it very much undesirable. But to me, it seemed most likely. I could find no way, logically, around it.

All through last semester, I struggled through my course on Ethics. Struggled not with the material or the readings but with myself. I struggled to find a logical, persuasive form of argument in which to challenge my previous belief about morality. I WANTED something to compel us to be moral. I WANTED that very much. I tried more than once to come up with such an argument, and more than once I freely admit I failed. Finally, in my final paper, after a week and a half of thinking constantly about this problem, I came up with what I thought was a reasonable, logical argument. Not necessarily full-proof. But it was SOMETHING. It was enough to make me doubt, just a little bit, my previous stance.

And so, you see, it has nothing to do with what I want to believe, and everything to do with a pursuit of truth. It is about proof, and doubt. Logic. Belief in a more appealing story through reason, not faith. And if reason leads me to a LESS appealing story, well, then that is what I will believe.

Oh, and for the record. I don't believe in God, but I don't NOT believe in God either. I admit I don't know, but I act on the assumption he does not exist, simply because it seems, to my subjective eyes, the most likely thing. But I don't commit to one belief or another, because there is a point where my logic and reason fail and I can not proceed past that point. Acting on an assumption is different, I would argue, than subscribing to a belief.

With the zoos, too, since you mention it--the idea of there being "caged" animals and "free" animals is illusion, that's what I think he was getting at. Pi talks about how animals in the wild stick to a certain territory and don't go traipsing all over the world just because they "can." Everyone limits themselves to a certain set of beliefs; some just create their own boundaries while others live in the ones that are given to them.

I agree completely with you, that is what he seems to be saying, and it is a very fascinating observation. I think your interpretation is spot-on, and I think Martel is, in this at least, more or less correct.

ceenindee
06-23-2010, 08:43 AM
Ah I see what you're saying. That's a good point! I'll have to read it again with that in mind to see if/how it tackles it. I can't immediately think of anything...hmmm...

PandaPolka
06-23-2010, 08:52 AM
I read Life of Pi my senior year of high school, enjoyed it, but I don't think I was really ever able to truly appreciate it. I remember enjoying the fact that it really made you think and had a lot of profound concepts within it, when it seemed like such a simple story.

I'd have to dig it back out and give it another go.

Zephronias
06-23-2010, 10:15 AM
It was a beautiful book. For some reason, Pi's reaction to the various holy men coming down on him (the "I just want to love God!" line) was really touching and it's stuck with me.

I'm afraid, though, that I was one of those people who read the whole book, soaked up all the implications of the end, then quietly went along pretending the alternate ending explanation didn't happen.

Dawnstorm
06-23-2010, 11:10 AM
Martel struggles with one of the most philosophically provocative, powerful questions about mankind, and all he really has to say to us, is that we should pick the BETTER story? And of course, he provides us with no real criteria for judging which is better - he assumes we agree, that the animal story is better than the non-animal story, but why? Why is it better? Because it is more unbelievable? So the more unbelievable a thing is, the better it is, the more we should believe in it?

I think you may be taking the "better story" part too seriously. I sense a more complex attitude to the relationship between "truth" and "reality" at work, and I also think that a lot of the reasoning is tied to Pi's character, and how Mr Martel sympathises with him.

In the book we have two narrators:

Pi Patel, for the story proper; and Mr. Martel himself for the frame story (author's note and chapters in italics). In the end we have "authentic" material. Now a question: how "real" is the narrator purpotedly identical with Mr. Martel? How "authentic" is the interview transcript and letter at the end of the novel?

The metafictional stuff is woven into very fabric of the story telling. Should we enjoy the story (including the story of how and why the story is told), or should we accept the story ("willing suspension of disbelief") as is, at least while reading?

Pi is an unreliable narrator, but his voice is made up by Mr. Martel, who himself proves also an unreliable narrator. A fiction within a fiction, which plays with expectations of truth we have.

So what's the key element of "better story"? Pi clearly subjugates truth to its utility value. You're very right, I think, when you say:


Hypothetically speaking, lets say the human story is true and Pi merely came up with the animal story as a sort of defense/coping mechanism. For him, clearly, in terms of his survival and quite possibly his psychological well-being, the animal story may be the preferable

But that's not all, really. It's not as simple as choosing the better version and sticking with it. Reading the interview, you can see he's keeping both versions of events in his mind, skipping between them as useful, but only making one of them "official". Consider this quote, which, I think, shows diplomacy in action:


Mr. Okamoto: "We'll be careful when we drive away. We don't want to run into Richard Parker."

Pi Patel: "Don't worry, you won't. He's hiding somewhere you'll never find him."

This is basically the negotiation of an "official truth", but one that should have no adverse effect. Do you think Mr. Okamoto really believes in Richard Parker? Do you think that Pi believes that Mr. Okamoto believes in Richard Parker?

I think a lot of what Pi calls belief is based on anti-literalness - metaphor and irony being important to this world view. There's a sort of index that allows switching register in the background, while keeping up an official front.

In this way Pi doesn't only run counter to the guys who prefer "dry, yeastless factuality", whom he accuses of a lack of imagination. (Re-read chapters 21 and 22; Martel and Pi, respectively - don't worry, they're short.) This attitude is also setting him apart from people who chose a "best story" (see the episode when the Christian, Muslim and Hindu priests gang up on him, demanding a choice).

So: why is the animal story the better one? If you know the animal story, once you know what really went on, you can construct what happened by analogy. The animal story turns into metaphor, and you start to see the connections. All you need is an interpretative model and reasoning. But to arrive at the animal story from the factual account you need imagination.

And to make imagination an end in itself, we have the algae/meerkat island, which is the only part not easily reducible to metaphor. Note that the event remains insular (yeah, I like puns). For example: the island did not consume Richard Parker (while reading, I wondered if it might). Nothing of consequence happened there. (Though it did reshuffle the cards with respect to the motifs of security/danger; it's a varation on the theme "nothing's safe".)

Bascially, Pi means to take his whims seriously, but in terms of "story" not in terms of "truth". "Dry, yeastless factuality" is not a "story". It's just what happened. The way you piece factuality together tells you things about what you are. God, if you will.

But reality is unyielding, and Pi does not recommend forgetting that. He does not want Mr. Okamoto to worry about Richard Parker. In western terms, that's a double standard, inconsistency, maybe even hypocracy. I think that may be why he's talking to Japanese people near the end (a culture much more focussed on in-/out-group relationships than on "objective standards of fairness"). A lot - in the interview, and probably also the letter - comes from the desire not cause un-needed embarrassment.

If you read the last sentence of the novel, from the letter of Mr. Okamoto:


Very few castaways can claim to have survived at sea as long as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.

Note that the letter does not actually say that there was an adult Bengal tiger on the reaft with Mr. Patel; only that no castaway can claim so. The official interpretation is "except Mr. Patel", but there's still the possibility of an in-joke ("and neither can Mr. Patel"). I do think that may be deliberate.

Believing, in the most common sense, is choosing your favourite version among a number of alternatives. If you believe one thing, you cannot believe incompatible alternatives. I think that it's this concept of "belief" that's under attack, with the underlying assumption that religious folk overlay their chosen point of view over a reality they also know; literalists do not have such an added layer; therefore they're impoverished in some way. But neither is the ideal.

I think that to Pi believing is a balancing act between all narratives that appeal. No need to choose, even in the face of contradiction. At the heart of this is a sort of ironic attitude towards the world. What you see is what you get, but do you really know what you're seeing?

For example, in the Martel-narrated section in the first part of the novel, Pi cooks spicy stuff for Mr. Martel, because he once - foolishly - said he likes it. Doesn't Pi realise the effect the food has on Mr. Martel? Doesn't he notice that:


I add dollop of yogurt after dollop of yogurt. Nothing doing. Each time it's the same: my tastebuds shrivel up and die, my skin goes beet red, my eyes well up with tears, my head feels like a house on fire, and my digestive tract starts to twist and groan in agony like a boa constrictor that has swallowed a lawn mower.

My take on Pi's action is this: here's an official version of events, and it leads to interesting results. I think Pi is naive; but he's also perceptive, and perhaps a bit mischievous.

I do think it's more complicated than just "choosing the better story". That's merely the punchline, the slogan. Not the philosophy behind it.

So: how far do you trust the "Author's note"? Did Mr. Martel want to write a story about Portugal in 1939? Did he meet a man in India, who told him the story? Was he able to track down Pi in Toronto? Are the documents authentic? What's turth? What's fiction? And: in what ways does it matter? To whom?

commasplicer
06-23-2010, 02:10 PM
Wow...Martel did what we are all trying to do...tell the truth. Sure, it may not be the truth, but it is his truth. And there is something to be said for that. 7,000,000 copies sold. Truth. Or not. Inconsequential.

Mr. Anonymous
06-29-2010, 08:09 AM
Dawnstorm, thanks so much for your fascinating post!

Should we enjoy the story (including the story of how and why the story is told), or should we accept the story ("willing suspension of disbelief") as is, at least while reading?

Well, I'm pretty sure I did both. While reading, I had no problem with Pi surviving 200+ days with a Tiger. I thought both the island and bumping into another soul lost at sea were, on the realism scale, pretty far-fetched but that didn't really pull me out of the story. I trusted Martel, and the story he was telling. It is HIS story, and I was perfectly willing to hear it out, and then make up my mind about how much I liked it or didn't.

However, great fiction often tries to get at some underlying truth to our reality, or the human condition, etc, and it is at this point that what is being written stops being just a story and starts being an argument for a certain reality/idea/etc.

I truly believe that Pi's voice, especially in key moments, like the ranting against agnosticism, or at the end, where he argues for the adoption of the "better story," is in large part, Martel's (genuine) voice.

Pi Patel: "Don't worry, you won't. He's hiding somewhere you'll never find him."

This is basically the negotiation of an "official truth", but one that should have no adverse effect. Do you think Mr. Okamoto really believes in Richard Parker? Do you think that Pi believes that Mr. Okamoto believes in Richard Parker?

You could be right. But couldn't simple sarcasm explain Mr. Okamoto's words. Couldn't Pi simply be making reference to the innate ability of animals to keep themselves out of sight, as elaborated on numerous times throughout the story? Or maybe Pi really is trying to underscore the fact that Mr. Okamoto doesn't believe in Richard Parker (which is why he'll never find him), but that could simply be all he is trying to say, not necessarily a "negotiation of the official truth."

Don't get me wrong, your idea is very interesting, I'm just not sure I see it.

This attitude is also setting him apart from people who chose a "best story" (see the episode when the Christian, Muslim and Hindu priests gang up on him, demanding a choice).

See, I read that differently. To me, it seemed that the Christian, the Muslim, and the Hindu priests were all, in their own right, representing the same "best" story, but written by three different authors, if you will.

So: why is the animal story the better one? If you know the animal story, once you know what really went on, you can construct what happened by analogy. The animal story turns into metaphor, and you start to see the connections. All you need is an interpretative model and reasoning. But to arrive at the animal story from the factual account you need imagination.

Fair enough. But you could argue the inverse. If the animal story can be a metaphor for the human story, why cannot the human story serve as a metaphor for the animal story? And if the animal story is the factual account (which it might be, who knows?) you need imagination as well. Just a different SORT of imagination. A different way of looking at things. We see the world in a very limited way (visible spectrum of light), interact with it in a very limited way, our conceptions of it are very limited. All these gaps are filled in with imagination. You might even say everything about the way we interact with and concieve of our world is imagined because it is not really representative of true reality. And so, our limited way of seeing is a form of imagination. Our limited way of hearing, a form of imagination. Our limited way of knowing. In other words, maybe our reality is imagined (from a certain point of view.)

Bascially, Pi means to take his whims seriously, but in terms of "story" not in terms of "truth". "Dry, yeastless factuality" is not a "story". It's just what happened. The way you piece factuality together tells you things about what you are. God, if you will.

But I disagree! I think my life is a story. I think all our lives are a story. I think mankind is a story and the universe is a story and even though I am halfway between an atheist and agnostic I wonder at who is doing the writing and why some stories intersect at the points they do and I wonder at what I do not know and I guess and I write little stories of what could or might be in my head to try to fill the great and terrible void of ultimate uncertainty, of never knowing anything for sure, but the difference is that I do not commit to a certain belief or story or whatever because I realize I do not know. And perhaps realizing such an essential fact takes the greatest imagination of all. Anyone can believe that good things happen to good people. Not everyone will work to make it happen, bit by bit, even though sometimes it seems worthwhile and at many others completely futile. In other words, perhaps accepting your own limitations takes the greatest imagination (while leaving you open to any story.)

Note that the letter does not actually say that there was an adult Bengal tiger on the reaft with Mr. Patel; only that no castaway can claim so. The official interpretation is "except Mr. Patel", but there's still the possibility of an in-joke ("and neither can Mr. Patel"). I do think that may be deliberate.

I believe you're correct.

Believing, in the most common sense, is choosing your favourite version among a number of alternatives. If you believe one thing, you cannot believe incompatible alternatives. I think that it's this concept of "belief" that's under attack, with the underlying assumption that religious folk overlay their chosen point of view over a reality they also know; literalists do not have such an added layer; therefore they're impoverished in some way. But neither is the ideal.



Yes, well, here's the thing. It might work this way in the case of Pi's story (belief overlaying literalism, though again, if belief can overlay literalism why can't literalism overlay belief? The atheist knows the religious story. Which is perhaps what Martel feels atheists are doing, and in doing so, taking a leap of faith. But as far as I'm concerned, agnosticism is essentially holding both stories on an equal level. Believing both and not believing both. Ironically, I think only an agnostic can do what you argue Pi is able to do - switch between two contradictory narratives.)

But what I wanted to say is that, while it might work for Pi's story, I don't think it works for atheism vs religion vs agnosticism, because, whereas in pi's story all the details are the same and the end result is the same, and only the "actors" are different, in atheism vs religion vs agnosticism, only the end result, that we are all here, now, is the same. All the details that explain how, why, for what purpose and to what end, all the details that BROUGHT US HERE are completely different. The driving force, the initial catalyst, be it big bang or god or something else entirely, is different.

And now consider Martel's version of the beginning of the universe, his primary catalyst - the destruction of the ship. In both stories, it is the same. Neither the animal story nor the human story has any bearing on the primary catalyst. Neither the animal story nor the human story sheds any light on the primary catalyst (to the japanese officials' disappointment.) What allows them to be interchangeable, IMO, is that they start from the same place and end at the same place. Atheism vs agnosticism vs religion do not start at the same place, and so while they arguably end at the same place, the JOURNEY to the end is different.

So: how far do you trust the "Author's note"? Did Mr. Martel want to write a story about Portugal in 1939? Did he meet a man in India, who told him the story? Was he able to track down Pi in Toronto? Are the documents authentic? What's turth? What's fiction? And: in what ways does it matter? To whom?


I actually listened to LOP on audiobook and I don't think it included the author's note. I'll have to double-check, but this is definitely the first time I'm hearing of Portugal in 1939! And I have to admit, the flashes to Toronto confused me, but if he was trying to imply that this might've all happened, then that certainly puts things into an entirely new perspective.

Dawnstorm
07-02-2010, 11:09 AM
I actually listened to LOP on audiobook and I don't think it included the author's note. I'll have to double-check, but this is definitely the first time I'm hearing of Portugal in 1939! And I have to admit, the flashes to Toronto confused me, but if he was trying to imply that this might've all happened, then that certainly puts things into an entirely new perspective.

Leaving out the author's note would have been a disastrous editorial decision, IMO. It's vital for the book.

The author's note is printed in italics, as are the Toronto flashes. The narrator of both is clearly Mr. Martell. He begins by complaining that his "second book, a novel" didn't sell well (dating it spring, 1996). This is easy to check: Self, 1996. His first book was collection of four stories, which explains the parenthetical "a novel", too.

He then goes on to say that he was working on a new novel, set in Portugal 1939, but that he was to restless to write it down, so he went to India. There he met a man who told him Pi's tale ("a story to make you believe in God"; these are neither Pi's nor Martel's words, but those of the man he met in India). Martel then tracks down Pi in Toronto and manages to snatch an interview. Martel thanks a couple of people, including Mr. Okamoto (author of the letter that ends the novel).

So when you say that:


I truly believe that Pi's voice, especially in key moments, like the ranting against agnosticism, or at the end, where he argues for the adoption of the "better story," is in large part, Martel's (genuine) voice.

you're probably right, on at least one level. From the author's note:


Nearly a year later, after considerable difficulties, I received a tape and a report from the Japanes Ministry of Transport. It was as I listened to that tape that I agreed with Mr. Adirubasamy that this was, indeed, a story to make you believe in God.

It seemed natural that Mr. Patel's story should be told mostly in the first person - in his voice and through his eyes. But any inaccuracies or mistakes are mine.

This is a sort of metafictional gambit. I do think it Mr. Martel identifies with the postion, and this is a set up. But he does sacrifice a pawn. I do think this gives the entire thing the story teller's wink. And it re-enacts the entire philosophy behind the book in the narrative technique.

I want to add that I only researched the title of Martel's secend book ("the novel") right now, for this post. I should have done so for my last post (critic's code, heh), but I was too lazy.


However, great fiction often tries to get at some underlying truth to our reality, or the human condition, etc, and it is at this point that what is being written stops being just a story and starts being an argument for a certain reality/idea/etc.

But does it have to be an argument? It seems to me, based purely on the book, that Mr. Martel is more mischievous than that. I don't think the book's an allegory (argument in story-form). Rather I think it's a snare and an epistemic experiment. I bet Mr. Martel is having fun reading reactions.


But couldn't simple sarcasm explain Mr. Okamoto's words. Couldn't Pi simply be making reference to the innate ability of animals to keep themselves out of sight, as elaborated on numerous times throughout the story? Or maybe Pi really is trying to underscore the fact that Mr. Okamoto doesn't believe in Richard Parker (which is why he'll never find him), but that could simply be all he is trying to say, not necessarily a "negotiation of the official truth."

Absolutely. I have no textual evidence as such; everything's circumstantial and nothing's conclusive.

I also freely admit that a lot of this interpretation originates in my own biography. (For example, I've got a degree in sociology, which explains my tendency to spot "negotiations of the official truth" in everything; it doesn't have to be conscious. Google "definition of the situation", William Thomas, if you care for an example. Erving Goffman, if you care for another, after that.

But I do think it's consistent with the metafictional frame.


See, I read that differently. To me, it seemed that the Christian, the Muslim, and the Hindu priests were all, in their own right, representing the same "best" story, but written by three different authors, if you will.

If you're going by sheer facts, though, you have different stories. A literalist does not get the same story in three different versions.


Fair enough. But you could argue the inverse. If the animal story can be a metaphor for the human story, why cannot the human story serve as a metaphor for the animal story? And if the animal story is the factual account (which it might be, who knows?) you need imagination as well. Just a different SORT of imagination. A different way of looking at things. We see the world in a very limited way (visible spectrum of light), interact with it in a very limited way, our conceptions of it are very limited. All these gaps are filled in with imagination. You might even say everything about the way we interact with and concieve of our world is imagined because it is not really representative of true reality. And so, our limited way of seeing is a form of imagination. Our limited way of hearing, a form of imagination. Our limited way of knowing. In other words, maybe our reality is imagined (from a certain point of view.)

Well, give the story to a psychologist and tell him it's a coping mechanism. It's easy for the psychologist to arrive at the interpretations and get it more or less right. Tell him the other story, and then tell him that he's given that account to deal with pesky people who wouldn't believe him what really happened. What are the odds that the psychologist comes up with just that story?

The translation process is much quicker, and probably also more accurate on the basis of less information, if you go from animal --> human, rather than the other way round.

The imaginative difference in getting the details down isn't all that great for either story; I'm talking about arriving, in the first place, at the alternative story from what's on page.


But I disagree! I think my life is a story. I think all our lives are a story. I think mankind is a story and the universe is a story and even though I am halfway between an atheist and agnostic I wonder at who is doing the writing and why some stories intersect at the points they do and I wonder at what I do not know and I guess and I write little stories of what could or might be in my head to try to fill the great and terrible void of ultimate uncertainty, of never knowing anything for sure, but the difference is that I do not commit to a certain belief or story or whatever because I realize I do not know. And perhaps realizing such an essential fact takes the greatest imagination of all. Anyone can believe that good things happen to good people. Not everyone will work to make it happen, bit by bit, even though sometimes it seems worthwhile and at many others completely futile. In other words, perhaps accepting your own limitations takes the greatest imagination (while leaving you open to any story.)

See, here I am not sure how much I dis/agree with you, or Mr. Martel (or Mr. Patel). Your using the phrase "terrible void of ultimate uncertainty". But if you can't know you're right, then neither can you know you're wrong. Is that terrible, or does that free imagination from truth claims? It may be a terrible void, sometimes. But it may be open space for roaming, too.

Like you, I'm pretty sure that Mr. Martel likes to think of this story as one "that makes you believe in God," but I'm not sure he's trying to sell that as an insight.


Yes, well, here's the thing. It might work this way in the case of Pi's story (belief overlaying literalism, though again, if belief can overlay literalism why can't literalism overlay belief? The atheist knows the religious story. Which is perhaps what Martel feels atheists are doing, and in doing so, taking a leap of faith. But as far as I'm concerned, agnosticism is essentially holding both stories on an equal level. Believing both and not believing both. Ironically, I think only an agnostic can do what you argue Pi is able to do - switch between two contradictory narratives.)

Well, agnosticism is a rather broad term and can mean anything from "nonsense that doesn't merit attention" to "maybe yes, maybe no". I consider myself an agnostic, but I certainly don't hold both stories on an equal level. To me, an atheist is ceding unnecessary ground to a theirs by claiming god doesn't exist; an agnostic brushes the story aside to get on with life. In some ways, my brand of agnosticism is more scathing than atheism: I do get what Pi is saying. I didn't quote it since I thought you could look it up in the book, but it's slightly inconvenient to do that with an audio, so I'll repeat it here:


I can well imagine an atheist's last words: "White, white! L-L-Love! My God!" - and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, "Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the brain," and to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.

An atheist - to deny the story - must get it. An agnostic doesn't have to get it. I don't get God. I don't get the story at all; I do get a "failing oxygenation of the brain". I can deal with that.

What Pi (and Martel - in his story-self of the previous chapter) leave out is that an agnostic may not be too concerned with the present at all. Maybe an association "Oh no, I left the fridge door op-" (That could well be my last words, see?)


But what I wanted to say is that, while it might work for Pi's story, I don't think it works for atheism vs religion vs agnosticism, because, whereas in pi's story all the details are the same and the end result is the same, and only the "actors" are different, in atheism vs religion vs agnosticism, only the end result, that we are all here, now, is the same. All the details that explain how, why, for what purpose and to what end, all the details that BROUGHT US HERE are completely different. The driving force, the initial catalyst, be it big bang or god or something else entirely, is different.

And now consider Martel's version of the beginning of the universe, his primary catalyst - the destruction of the ship. In both stories, it is the same. Neither the animal story nor the human story has any bearing on the primary catalyst. Neither the animal story nor the human story sheds any light on the primary catalyst (to the japanese officials' disappointment.) What allows them to be interchangeable, IMO, is that they start from the same place and end at the same place. Atheism vs agnosticism vs religion do not start at the same place, and so while they arguably end at the same place, the JOURNEY to the end is different.

Really? There are clearly two perspectives: technical (what sank the ship?), and biographical (what did the sinking of the ship do to me?). The two perspectives don't meet. The shipwreck's result is worthless to the company, and the technical details of why the ship sank don't concern Pi.

I think that could easily match the big bang/god dichotomy. It's not shit; a dog put it here. A false conflict seen through the lense of different motivation. Which is why, I think, the shipping company and Pi don't cause each other problems. We know of the shipping company's ignorance. What we don't know is what believing ultimately means to Pi, partly because we don't know what actually happened.

Personally, I lean towards "coping mechanism". But that tells me more about myself than about Pi.

I have to repeat: if the audio-book left off the author's note, they crippled the book.

gothicangel
11-22-2012, 01:17 AM
I have just finished reading this, and I have to say that I was underwhelmed by it.

It was incredibly anthropological, as for proving that God exists, to me it did the opposite. I just couldn't get the line 'nature, red in tooth and claw' out of my head. I wasn't that impressed with the ending. It was allegory, I got it, I didn't need the explanation at the end.