*Note: This blog is spoiler free, but there’s one non-plot element that I need to speak about at length here. If you’d rather not know anything about this book, turn back now.*

I read Life of Pi in Spain this past summer, and boy was it an incredible experience. The narration, the captivating plot, the way the book drags you in and leaves you constantly waiting for what happens next. It was absolutely brilliant.

I was all set to come back to Canada and write a glowing review of it, placing it in my top five of all time along with books such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Giver. But I didn’t write that blog, and now five months later the book is getting a rant instead of a glowing review. And why is that?

Because the book isn’t a true story.

You might think that that’s a bit of a weird thing to pick on. After all, none of the other books that I hold in such high regard are true stories either. What makes Life of Pi different?

Simply put, none of the other books pretended to be anything other than fiction. Life of Pi did. And it lied to me.

Let me explain. See, the major draw about Life of Pi – one of reasons why it’s considered such a classic – is that the author is able to make a fantastical story seem like non-fiction. Most reviewers of the book credit Yann Martel for being able to convince them that this story actually happened, claiming that this is the stroke of a master writer.

Well, no. It’s not. All he did was employ a cheap trick.

Let’s say someone who you trust comes up to you and says “Hey. I’m about to tell you this outrageous story, and the whole thing is true!”  At the end of the story you say “Wow, that was incredible.” Then they turn around and say “HAHA I TRICKED YOU! YOU’RE SO GULLIBLE, HOW COULD YOU BELIEVE THAT STORY?” and you say “Well, because you TOLD me it was true, numbnuts.”

That is approximately the level of masterful writing that Yann Martel employs in Life of Pi.

Here’s what he does:

Before the story begins, in the Author’s Note section, Yann Martel basically says “This is a true story.” 

That’s it. That’s all he does.

And of course half of the world (including myself) believes it’s a true story – he’s told us that in the Author’s Note!

It’d be like a fictitious movie opening with the words “Based on a true story”. Would you call that a masterstroke in film making, or a cheap tactic? In fact, with the Life of Pi moving coming out in theatres, perhaps they’ll do something like that, if only to be faithful to the source material.

They won’t, of course, because people would complain about it. But when it happens in a book, people just let it slide.

Look. Life of Pi is a well-written novel. It features a great main character and an exciting plot, which is an accomplishment given that most of it takes place in a static setting with only one speaking character. But is it a masterpiece? Absolutely not, and all because Yann Martel had to resort to such a base tactic in order to convince his reader of the credibility of his novel. Ironically, if the Author’s Note were to be omitted, I would probably consider Life of Pi to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. Instead, it’s just another story.

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