Thursday, 21 March 2013

Life of Pi, Yann Martel

Life of Pi is one of those books I always thought about reading but somehow never did. When the film came out it got everyone talking about it again and all I heard anyone say was how great the book was. So I decided rather than watch the film first and then be annoyed at myself, I'd better read the book.
From the moment I picked up Life of Pi, I couldn't put it down. The story begins after Pi Patel's adventure/ordeal, explaining to some extent what he did afterwards and how his life turned out in Toronto. He went to university to study religious studies and zoology: the two subjects of his childhood, and also possibly the two subjects that allowed him to survive in the Pacific Ocean. 
The next chapter goes back to Pi's early childhood, where he narrates his experiences growing up in Pondicherry, India. Son of a zoo keeper, Pi knows a lot about animals, and the stories told are fascinating. I learnt a lot about the psychology of animals. I also really liked Pi's open mindedness and commitment to various religions. There was a particularly funny part where a Catholic Priest, a Muslim Imam and a Hindu Pandit are arguing over which religion Pi belongs to and insulting each others faiths along the way. Pi has taken an interest in all three and fails to see why this is a problem.
It's hard to talk about the main part of this book without spoiling the story, so apologies if you haven't read/seen it yet! But even the book cover kind of gives it away, so I don't think I'm doing too much of a terrible thing.
 The story of how Pi survives living on the lifeboat is exciting and compelling from start to finish. Amazing really, considering the  minimal amount of dialogue. The reader is engaged by the great detail in the descriptions of what Pi does, of the relationship with Richard Parker, and of his intense thought processes and emotions.
At the end of the book I wanted to read more about what happened to him after finding dry land. But actually if you revisit the first chapter then you get just that. And so the story is a whole, a never ending circle that can be enjoyed over and over.
I really did love it, and I will definitely read it again.  


Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

It's taken me approximately two months to read this book, hence my quietness on this blog space. The book is 974 pages long (wowser), although I only found that out just now because the copy I had on my kindle didn't tell me the page count or what page I was on, which was a little weird.
The setting for the Pillars of the Earth is the building of cathedrals in the twelfth century. At first I thought this sounded boring, but the whole cathedral thing is only really the backdrop for all the lying, murdering, treachery, cunning and intrigue. And actually it was quite interesting to learn about how cathedrals were built, even though a lot of the time I didn't understand the lingo.
The first chapter dives straight into the action, leaving you with a sense of mystery and of a story to unravel. After this initial chapter, however, I found it moved a bit slowly and wasn't convinced for probably the first 100 pages or so that I was going to like it. Then, following some rape, destruction and general development of character relationships (good and bad), I became utterly entranced. Once I was in its grip, I couldn't put the thing down. The story spans about 50 years and Follett gives the overall picture whilst also honing in significantly on the most important parts. The detail of some of the things he described was quite amazing. During one fight I was actually holding my breath, as if I was watching a film instead of reading. The way Follett describes things allows you to see every exactly in your minds eye, as it happens, and to understand how the characters feel.
Prior Philip, one of the main characters, gave me lots of profound things to think about. He is innately good, and I very much enjoyed the two-ing and fro-ing between him and others in the never ending battle between good and evil. I also liked the strong female characters in the story. You've gotta love a good witch, haven't you?

I will now share with you one of my favourite quotes from the book. I liked it mainly becuase it reminded me so much of the attitude here in Saudi.
Prior Philip is considering just letting God decide whether the cathedral will be built in Shiring or Kingsbridge, rather than fighting his corner. But he knows that isn't how it works.  
He knew that would not do, of course. Having faith in God did not mean sitting back and doing nothing. It meant believing that you would find success if you did your best honestly and energetically.
His opinion is in direct contrast to the Saudi mentality. Inshallah here means, 'I will do nothing about this but if it's meant to happen then it will.'
No, people, no.  

If you're up for an adventure, and have enough time on your hands for it, then I highly recommend this book. And there's a sequel World Without End, so the fun doesn't have to stop there!