Friday, January 29, 2016

The High Mountains of Portugal

Title:  The High Mountains of Portugal
Author:  Yann Martel
Publication Information:  Spiegel & Grau. 2016. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0812997174 / 978-0812997170

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Tomás decides to walk."

Favorite Quote:  "Love is a house with many rooms, this room to feed the love, this one to entertain it, this one to clean it, this one to dress it, this one to allow it to rest, and each of these rooms can also just as well be the room for laughing or the room for listening or the room for telling one's secrets or the room for sulking or the room for apologizing or the room for intimate togetherness, and, of course, there are the rooms for the new members of the household. Love is a house in which plumbing brings bubbly new emotions every morning, and sewers flush out disputes, and bright windows open up to admit the fresh air of renewed goodwill. Love is a house with an unshakable foundation and an indestructible roof."

Three parts to the book. Three time periods. Three stories that ultimately tie together, although not until the end and even then only sort of. Themes of sorrow, a loss of faith, the mountains of Portugal, and  chimpanzees run through all three stories. Part one is the story of a man walking backwards and his quest. Part two is discourses on Jesus and on Agatha Christie. Part three is about a man and his chimp. Throw in a crucifix, some untimely deaths, and a rhinoceros to complete this book.

In Part One, we meet Tomás, who is reeling from the tragedy of losing both his wife and his toddler. His response to his sorrow and his anger is to start walking backwards. Yes, walking backwards in his normal day to day life. This way, he only faces something by choice rather than coming upon it by chance. Denial or loss perhaps? I am not really sure, but I suppose I could see the symbolism in that.

In addition, he fixates on a religious artifact he reads about in an old diary written by a priest. This artifact is to be found in - you guessed it - the high mountains of Portugal. So, he begins a quest to find it. The quest, however, becomes more about his ability or inability to drive a car, a new-fangled invention. Perhaps, the fixation is a way of coping with his loss; if he can focus on this car and this artifact, then he doesn't have to think about his loss. Is that the interpretation the author intends? I am not sure, but the explanation works for me and makes Tomás a character for whom I feel pity. Then, Part One ends.

Part Two, 30 years later, becomes about a death and autopsy. In between, we have the pathologist and his wife's musings about Jesus and Agatha Christie. The autopsy reveals inside the human body a chimpanzee cradling a bear. What? I am not sure quite what to make of this. Abruptly, this section ends.

Part Three, fifty years later, is also about a man recovering from loss. His method of coping is to retreat from society to live with his chimpanzee. This story becomes about the interaction about man and animal and the ability to heal, powerful themes with great potential to develop into a story. By this point, however, I am still looking for the thread to tie the book together and to make sense of it, but perhaps it is too late at this point. I am not vested in the characters, the story, or the why.

Confused yet? Me too. I am not entirely sure what this book was about. All through the book, I feel as if there exists a metaphorical, philosophical meaning behind the words. All through the book, I wait for it to become clear. All through the book, it remains beyond my grasp.  Having finished it, I wish someone could explain it me. I wish for that "a-ha" moment to have it all make sense. Unfortunately, for me and this book, it never happens.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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