Before I explain the totally reasonable (and totally embarrassing) reasons I disliked this book, take a look at the Amazon summary:
The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.
The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.
So I was totally into this book for the middle two-thirds of it. The beginning, which took place in India and consisted only of descriptions of Pi’s life as the son of a zookeeper and the follower of many religions, was very slow, and I couldn’t wait for the journey to actually begin. When it did, I loved the idea of a teenage boy being set adrift in the ocean with only the terrifying company of an enormous tiger. The details were fantastic, as the author explored the consequences of Pi’s life on the open ocean, collecting water for himself, trying to catch fish or turtles to eat, protecting his skin from the sun beating down on him, and training Richard Parker to respect him as the alpha male. It was riveting stuff.
I started to suspect when Pi and Richard Parker reached the fantastical floating island with the skin-eating plants, but it wasn’t until the end of Pi’s journey that I knew: Despite all appearances, this book was not based on a true story. I have to cringe typing that. It’s so embarrassing that it took me until the end of the book to realize that Life of Pi is, incredibly, not true! I was so wrapped up in the idea that a young teenage boy could actually learn to survive alone in the middle of the ocean, even training a tiger to coexist peacefully with him, and make it safely to shore many months later. The framing of this story is done so beautifully that it seems like it might actually have happened, if not exactly this way, then at least mostly. But no. I was mortified when I realized that my understanding of this whole story was wrong!
Even putting this aside, however, I really disliked the ending of the book. (This is mildly *spoiler-y*, although it is included in the official Amazon review–I clipped it out for anyone who might not want so much spoiler information in their summary–so feel free to skip this if you haven’t read it and want to be totally surprised.) As Pi tells his story to the officials, it is so incredible to them that they demand to know what really happened. Pi obliges by telling them a much more brutal and less interesting version of the story, and while the reader is left to decide for themselves which story is the “real” one, or if it even matters which is more true, I think the answer is very clear and very disappointing. I’d rather have continued believing (as I somehow, incredibly, did for a while) the fantastic story Pi told than have this terrible, tacked-on ending.
Needless to say, I had a couple problems with this book. One was basically my own fault; the other, a flaw in the story itself (at least in my opinion). Still, the writing is very good, and the middle two-thirds of the book are an enjoyable and fascinating story. Give it a try, but come forewarned.
Rating: Not My Cup of Tea