Sunday, 16 December 2012

Life of Pi

I decided to read this book before seeing the new Ang Lee film, scheduled for release on 20 December 2012 here in the UK. I was really excited to read it after the high praise given by reviewers on Amazon and the proclamation that "this book will make you believe in God" - with a statement like that it's got to be a good book right?
And it was a good book, it really was, if a little confusing, and not only in terms of plot. The basic premise is of a boy, Pi Patel (so called due to teasing when he was a child) who's ship sinks when his family are moving their zoo from India to Canada. The rest of the story is that of Pi on a life boat for almost 300 days.. with a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger, interestingly named Richard Parker., for company. (It may sound stupid but I didn't actually realise tigers were as dangerous as is made out in the book, but as it turns out, they are - and it's quite an important element of the story, so, yes, tigers are dangerous). From the plot alone you can see that, at over 450 pages long, the book has the potential to get very boring in places, and it did, but what confused me most was that there was always something pulling me in and drawing me back to carry on with the book. There's something about this book that just won't let you put it down.
Yann Martel's writing was certainly a factor in urging me to continue reading; it was clear he was writing about something he truly believes in, his writing has reason and purpose and Martel just comes across as being really quite wise. Some of the most inspirational quotes include "if there's only one nation in the sky, shouldn't all passports be valid for it?" and "love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?" I should also mention, as you can probably see from the quotes, this book is very religious so if your not into that kind of thing, maybe this book isn't for you, although I would still strongly recommend it. 
The ending to 'Life of Pi' is one of the best I have ever read. Unlike most books, the story doesn't just end - there's an enormous twist which, if you've invested in the story, could completely change the way you think about life. However, that's the thing with this book. You have to go into it wanting it to be more than just a nice story, you need to completely invest in the characters and open yourself up to Yann Martel's narrative. You have to want to be caught up in the story, and, I'm afraid, this is something I didn't do - I didn't particularly want to be preached to. Supposedly Pi's story is meant to seem irrational and unreliable, but this thought never even occurred to me - at times I supposed, due to lack of food, he must be a little delirious but, other than that, I had absolute trust in him and his narration. Apparently this affects interpretation of the ending of the story - which is supposed to pack a punch but, in all honesty, it left me completely baffled. It took until I googled 'Life of Pi ending' and read some discussion on the topic for me to really understand the message Martel was trying to get across and, once I understood, the book still managed to pack that punch. I look at that as another great thing about this book: perhaps it's supposed to leave you utterly bewildered to begin with, before shedding a little light after extra thought on the subject. I guess this also means that, based on interpretation, the book can be different for every single reader but still resonate. It's universal.
Surprisingly, considering the subject matter, 'Life of Pi' also had some quite amusing moments. For example the story of how Pi came to be known as Pi, and the closing chapters which feature a Japanese comedy duo. In this way Martel cleverly changes the mood between bleak and cheerful almost seamlessly. 
So, overall, 'Life of Pi' is a good book, perhaps with some less riveting bits, but it makes you think. Although I'm not sure it will stay with me as long as it promised to, it was definitely worth the read. I would also agree with the statement that it's an "unfilmable" story, so the film should be an interesting one - it definitely looks like it'll be visually stunning.

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