Although the vast majority of my fiction reading these days is cozy mysteries, every now and then I like to shake it up. Earlier this month, I read Life of Pi. The first part of the book is, in my opinion, low stakes with little conflict, as Pi tells us about his early life. This is before the main action of the novel, so how does the author keep the reader engaged in this section?
There are a couple of ways the author keeps the reader interested. The first one is using a lot of solid details to bring the zoo to life. It's more than just invoking the senses; it's also the authoritative tone he uses to describe how to care for the animals. However, there's another technique to keep people reading. There are also miniature stories and anecdotes woven into this section of the book. The most dramatic of these is when Pi's father demonstrates to him and his brother exactly how dangerous the zoo animals are. Part of this involves making them watch a tiger hunting a goat. Other stories relate the kinds of things visitors feed the zoo animals (and unfortunately, how some of them are cruel to the animals). These stories add conflict and interest to prose that otherwise might be telling instead of showing.There are a few sections where the author stops the story to list things or the style becomes very simplistic; I admit I skimmed over those places. The first part of the book also contains italicized chapters written from the perspective of someone visiting Pi many years after the main events; I didn't think they added much to the story. But it's been instructive to observe how the author develops themes while providing us with background.
Have you read books that detail long passages of time where little happens story-wise? If so, what techniques kept you reading through those sections? Feel free to comment.