I am rereading this book for the first time in a long time, having first read it in college for fun. It’s still a very engaging novel that plays around with some fun ideas and also with the structure and truth in fiction. I am thinking of using it for an AP Literature class this fall, and I was thrilled to read the author’s introduction, which functions like the first chapter of a Vonnegut or Nabokov book. We quickly realize that the author in this sense is acting as a character as well, and when we begin to question Pi’s story in the novel, we need only remember that we were set up at the very beginning to always be questioning the contents of the novel.
The author’s note begins with the lamenting of his own past failures as a novelist and how excited he was to first discover the story we’re reading. When the novel proper begins, we’re always presented Pi’s narrative as part of a long interview with a few small authorial intrusions throughout. And of course, if you’ve read the book before, you know that we end with a further interrogation of the story.
The novel ends up spending a lot more time than I remembered in Pondicherry, the former French colonial territory, where Pi and his family live with their zoo. This sets up a lot of the ways in which Pi deals with the trauma of his upcoming voyage and helps to shape the story for us once it’s going. Pi also functions very similarly to a similarly named figure Pip from Great Expectations and again this allows us to constantly wonder about truth in the telling of the story, not because Pip is a liar, but because his story is also based on false assumptions until the very end.