Life of Pi

Sometimes, without realizing it, a perfect gem just slides past you, or lies around unnoticed for years. It’s not that I’ve had Life of Pi lying around at home unnoticed and unopened; but it could easily have been that way. In fact, it was lying around in the world, in bookshops, in the news, in movie halls now, and was still unnoticed and unopened by me.

And that’s what friends are for. To quietly gift you one of the many such unnoticed gems of life.

When Christina gave me Life of Pi as a birthday gift, I knew that if she liked something enough to get it as a gift for me, it was probably something I wanted to read right away. So I did. In fact, I opened the book as soon as she left and read the first two pages and I liked it already. It still took me another week and another delicious weekend before I could properly get into it and get to the end of it.

For a book that should by rights be somewhat slow, even tedious, it was surprisingly enthralling and hugely unputdownable. It’s clear, if you know anything about the book, or even if you just read the blurb on the back, that it’s the story of a shipwreck. It’s also clear from the beginning that the survivor survived to tell the story. All the same, I couldn’t wait to find out how. I wanted to know all the gory, grisly details, and the book did not disappoint. In fact, some of the portrayals sounded so genuine that one of the first things I did when I finished the book was to check whether the story was in fact a documentary of a real-life incident or not. I was slightly surprised but nonetheless quite satisfied to discover it was not – it was fiction through and through. That was good, though – the tale was too incredible to be true (all they say about fact being stranger than fiction notwithstanding).

I loved the humour in the book, especially in the early chapters, where context is being set and tragedy is yet to come. I normally avoid books that talk about religion because it’s boring to read someone else’s opinion on religion, but not so here. The religious aspects were laid out in such a candid and incredulous manner that you couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

On the whole, I’m not very fond of allegorical works. Perhaps I haven’t read enough of them. The only one that comes to mind is the Narnia Chronicles and I really would have preferred that series if the allegorical aspects had been vastly underplayed and the books had concerned themselves purely with the adventure. The fantabulous Harry Potter series, for instance… could be taken to be allegorical, but they are such a good read even if you completely ignore the understated understory.

Not so here. The allegory is very much there, and you would have to work very hard to ignore it. But, you don’t really want to ignore it, because it’s so well done. It’s not quite in your face – the adventure stands on its own even without the allegorical interpretation – but it’s clearly brought out at the end, point clearly made. I like that it’s not too perfect either, not an absolute parallel. I like that there are many ways of reading it. Who, exactly, does Richard Parker represent? Who does the inebriated crew represent? And what was all that about meerkats?

After a long time, here’s a book I definitely want to read a second time.

And yes, I want to watch the movie too.

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