Saturday, 24 September 2011

Not my slice of Pi

One of my blog readers enquired about whether I would ever write a negative review, as so far my reviews have all been favourable. I tend to stop reading disagreeable books. I don’t see the point of forcing myself to read something I am not enjoying but I often come back to them later when I am more in the mood. However, from time to time I read books that I do not like. One such novel is The Life of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel. 
I bought The Life of Pi because I collect books by Canadian authors and this novel won the Booker Prize in 2002, had rave reviews, and was on all the best sellers’ lists. I thought the premise sounded interesting and, adding all these factors together, that it would be worth a read.

The story is about Piscine Patel, known as Pi, and his early life in India where is father owns a zoo. As a young Hindu, Pi explores Christianity and Islam. The family sells the zoo and moves to Canada, travelling by boat with some of their animals. The boat sinks and Pi, the sole human survivor, ends up in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, orang-utan, zebra and hyena. Pi floats along at sea for 227 days while the animals eat each other (described in graphic detail).

The book is divided into thirds. I probably should have quit reading it after the first third, but because of all the best-selling, prize-winning hype, I kept at it hoping it would get better… It didn’t. It just got more violent and gory and duller leaving me disappointed and flat. I don't even feel it was well written.

So, while I absolutely hated The Life of Pi and can never get those hours of my life back,  reading it did teach me some important lessons. First, just because a novel wins a major literary award doesn’t necessarily mean it is actually any good. Second, just because thousands of people rushed out to buy it, putting it on the bestseller list, doesn’t mean that these people actually read it. So popularity and literary kudos do not always mean a winning formula for creating a reading list.