Life of Pi – In Medias Res

I saw a trailer for the new movie “Life of Pi” so I, of course, had to check out the book by Yann Martel. I downloaded it on my nook and am I already on the tenth chapter. Some of my friends on Facebook complained that it was a book they were forced to read their first semester of college; that it was confusing and boring and no one understood what was going on half the time.

As I am hardly a quarter of the way into the story, I cannot say much about the actual story just yet, but what I am impressed with, is the writing and the depth behind the words that are being said. I don’t often read novels that have significant meaning to them lately, (I know shameful of me) but when I do – I make sure they are good ones.

Although I am very impressed with the author’s intelligent writing, I can agree that the narrative is long-winded and the first person narrator takes forever to get his points across, whatever they might be. As a reader, however, I am trusting that there is a point to this story and am going to follow it faithfully on as I am anxious to see what happens. The author himself has promised a story that will make you believe in God, and perhaps that is a hook just like any other. However…

View from overlook at Harris Hill, NY.

My creative writing teacher in college always encouraged us writers with a Latin phrase, “In medias res,” which means in the middle of things. It is a literary technique that some writers use to grab the attention of their readers by starting off their story in the middle of the action, or near the end. The result is very little exposition, but it is an exciting technique, because it allows the reader to experience what is happening to the characters they are reading about; and as a writer, you are forced to show your readers what is happening through action and various sensory details.

Life of Pi does not do this.

Well, at least not yet. There is an opening chapter with a brief glimpse of what the first person narrator thinks about certain things, and some of his experiences after something traumatic has happened to him, but it is mostly telling. It also reminds me of some early nineteenth century literature, where the narrative just goes on and on and on, because of some unforeseen need from the narrator to express something very near and dear to his or her heart and nothing can stop the flow of conscious thought.

Perhaps I’m doing that now…hmm. Anyway

While I think Martel’s style of narrative can be tedious to some, it is also thought-provoking. He says some amazing things. I’m terribly sure I’ve heard this somewhere before, but the author says in his introduction:

“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” (Martel).

How true! But I wonder how amazing would this book be if it were written with the idea of impressing its readers? If the action and scenery behind the narrator’s reflection actually mirrored his thought process? (Perhaps this is where the movie has numbed our mind with visuals.) Some could argue that it is not about the experience but what he or she has learned along that journey…

I, on the other hand, just yearn for a story where I am immediately scooped up and taken for a ride of a lifetime. A quick, sensory detailed read where I am lost in the character’s voice and story and cannot wait to see what happens on the next page. Perhaps this is why I love Young Adult fiction so much, because teens are not impressed with literature that confuses or bores them. They want that quick fix of great writing, of a story that wraps itself around your subconscious and you can’t hear or see anything else for a few days.

Perhaps the lesson here is no matter the style of writing, a great story is a great story, but a narrator should not bore its readers. They want to be entertained, they want to love the story that you are trying to tell. Don’t bury a great story in yards and yards of exposition. Show them!

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