The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (film)

We went to see this on New Years Day at the recently revamped cinema in Walton. Gone were the traditional cinema seats, and the cramped feel that all cinemas seem to have. Instead we were treated to a 2 seater sofa, masses of leg room and small tables on which to place your drinks. Very civilised.

We chose to see the 3D version of the film, which means that you have to wear some rather unflattering glasses (which do fit over your own spectacles). So armed with a cup of coffee and the 3d specs we settled down to see the film.

And the film. The 3D effects were great. Were they essential to the film? No, not really. Like any film, it is the story which is important.

The story covers the life of a boy called by Pi growing up in India. His parents ran a zoo

Martel asks important questions in this film. In the beginning, as Pi’s early life story is told, is the question of religion and the fragmentation of religion and religion’s relationship to the belief in God. At the end, another question is asked, which story do you prefer, the fantastic fable of a boy shipwrecked, in a lifeboat with only a tiger for companionship or a more realistic story of a boy alone in the lifeboat. As Pi points out, neither story answers the question “Why did the ship sink?”. So it is easy to miss the real questions that Martel is asking, questions to do with truth. How do we know what is true and what is not true. Sometimes we confuse the question of truth with what is real, or reality. However reality, when totally deconstructed is a bunch of sun atomic particles that sometime sexist and sometimes do not, sometimes they are here and sometimes somewhere else – with lots of space in between. Reality is not what I can see and feel and touch, for the particles that I can touch today may be somewhere else tomorrow and may even be part of the system that I call me. What is truth? Pi tells the Japanese investigators at the end of the book (and film) two stories. Can they both be true? The second story is unpalatable, for it deals with the rawness of survival and shatters the picture we have of Pi, a gentle and dreaming 17 year old boy, a boy who kills so that he will survive (and not be eaten). The stark facts of the second story do not necessarily contradict the first story. Are the two not different ways of telling the story of a boy who survives the destruction of his family and is cast adrift for 227 days alone in a small boat. And despite this, Pi survives, physically, psychologically and emotionally. And so it is with God. And a question of faith. Which story of creation do you prefer? The hard bald facts, or a creation story told by the world’s great religions. Are the great religions that Pi meets in India, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism not just different stories told about the same God?

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is the third book of the trilogy started by Shadow of the Wind by the Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I have just finished listening to it (purchased from The Prisoner of Heaven is taken from a book by Julian Carax, the fictional author from the Shadow of the Wind. I had enjoyed the Shadow of the Wind, so much so that the Angel’s Game (book 2 of the trilogy) was something of an anticlimax. But this book brings both books together. The narrator is Daniel Sempere who is now married to Bea and has a small son. The star of the book is Fermin (Fermin Romero de Torres), an unlikely hero. Small, slight, not good looking, most definitely not a Hollywood star, on whose body is enscribed the brutality of the Franco regime and the barbarity of the Spanish Civil War. The story centres on Fermin’s time as a prisoner in the dreaded Montjuic Castle and his friendship with david Martine, the main character from the Angel’s Game. Despite the brutality of his experiences, Fermin is a man of compassion, a man of courage, the sort of man that anyone would be proud to have as a friend.

Fermin is about to be married to Bernarda, and all is not well with the groom to be. A mysterious stranger turns up in the Sempere bookshop and this stranger is the catalyst for Fermin to tell his story to Daniel. In this story Daniel finds out more about his friend and his mother as well as finding out what was troubling the groom to be.

Zafon writes a good book, the narrative is gripping, one begun it, the book has to be finished. Zafon draws us into two eras of Barcelona’s history – the Barcelona of 1960 and the post civil war Barcelona of the 1940s. How does a city recovery from a civil war, how does a city cope with a fascist dictatorship? How can the desire for revenge accommodate the desire to live a normal live?

There is a twist in the story, the world of David Martin. This is a world where the thin veil that separates the world of reality from the world of mental illness. How do we know what is real and what is fantasy? And yet here, right at the end of the book is a twist. Just when you think that there is only the real world, that the whole story can be explained, Zafon throws in the Angel from the Angel’s Game.

The Shadow of the Wind second post

First published: July 2012

I have just finished reading this book. A delight to read. What kind of book is it? A love story? A historical novel? A thriller. A comedy – or a tragedy. Like all great books, this book does not easily fit into such categories for it is a multi-layered novel.

So some observations

Syria is descending into civil war. The cruelty and brutality will beggar belief. Zafón’s book is set against the recovery from such a civil war. The Spanish Civil War ended finally in April 1939 – Barcelona had fallen to Franco’s republicans in January. The aftermath of the civil war was cruel and brutal. Even 10 years later, the repercussions can still be felt.

Stalking the streets is Inspector Fumero, a psychopath who enjoys cruelty, who glories in prolonging the suffering of his victims and specialises in murder. Is Fumero’s characterisation over the top? Sadly no, for we just have to look at what is happening in so many parts of the world to realise that there are instances of Inspector Fumero in all totalitarian regimes.

The story hinges on lies and the suppression of the truth. The character of Julian Carax, the fictional author of the Shadow of the Wind, falls in love with his benefactor’s daughter, Penelope. But the untold truth is that Julian is in fact his benefactor’s illegitimate son. The love affair is ended tragically and for Penelope, barbarically. Julian is forced into exile. And now the second distortion of the truth – the fate of Penelope is kept from Julian by his closest friend. But when Julian discovers the truth, then another tragedy unfolds. Julian sees himself accursed, the devil, and scours Barcelona for copies of his work to destroy.

And another motif is bought into play – the motif of redemption.The boy Daniel is entranced by the work of Julian Carax, he wants to know about the author, there is no ulterior motive. For so long, Julian had regarded himself as a thing absolutley outside  the decency. Yet Daniel, with his enthusiasm and innocence remins Julian of what he once was.  Slowly Julian changes, and when the pregnant Bea has had to flee from the wrath of her family, it is Julian who takes her it and protects her. The story of Penelope and Julian echoes the story of Daniel and Bea. History does not repeat itself and Bea and Daniel escape the tragedy that engulfed Julian’s life. At the end of the novel we find that Julian has begun writing again.

It is not often that you come across a book that is so satisfying to read and stays with you . This is just such a book.

Updated: July 9, 2012 at 6:10 pm