Saturday, 26 January 2013

Life of Pi

Adaptations of best-selling books for film can be hit-and-miss. Some have enhanced the story, others have ruined it (the film version of 'The Lovely Bones' for instance, while tense and brooding in places, was in many respects a travesty of the book). So when it was announced that Ang Lee was committing Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel 'Life of Pi' to film there was some interest and not a small amount of concern, as the book was deemed by many to be unfilmable.

The ideas in the story of 'Life of Pi' have fascinated me from the time it was shortlisted for the Booker, but I must confess I had not managed to get round to reading it until recently, really in preparation for watching the film. The reason for the delay I'm not too clear about, other than the fact that I just didn't get around to it. Also, I have been somewhat disappointed recently by Booker-winning novels: 'The Finkler Question' promised much but sadly left me quite flat, and Julian Barnes, whose earlier work I have greatly admired in the past, left me somewhat similarly deflated with 'The Sense of an Ending'.

'Life of Pi', however, captivated me from the start. The images of beauty and brutality; the search for truth and for God; the determination to hang on to sanity and survival against tremendous ordeals - towering themes that permeate the book - were handled with sensitivity and at times with great power.

If you can only read a small portion of this book, read Chapter 74: I wanted to quote the whole thing, but here is one particular passage that spoke potently to me, and stayed with me:

Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love— but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up.

I came to the film having almost finished the book, but not quite. I found the film a triumph: sumptuous in its cinematography, faithful in its narrative, and true to the spirit and spirituality of the original novel. Pi's natural ability to see and commune with God in the religious systems of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, as well as in the beauty and the horror of nature in all its forms, was sensitively and seductively portrayed.

The film and the book left me with a profound reminder of the strength of good stories to elucidate truth. I highly recommend both media to any who enjoy a good narrative, or a parable even...