Compelling, brilliant, unsettling, allegorical, magical, thought provoking, complicated, challenging to read - these were some of the comments from book club members on “The High Mountains of Portugal” by Yann Martel. They led to an interesting and very lively discussion at our September meeting.
Like its celebrated predecessor, Booker Prize winner Life of Pi, Martel’s “High Mountains" is a surreal , philosophical novel structured in three parts spanning nine decades of the last century. Subtly connected to each other by characters, locations and ideas, each section challenges readers to explore their understanding of faith, bereavement and even humanity’s place in the hierarchy of living creatures. A man thrown into walking backwards by heartbreak goes in search of an artefact that could unsettle history and avenge the loss of his lover and child. A woman carries her dead husband to a doctor in a suitcase for a disturbing and surprising autopsy. A Canadian senator begins a new life in Portugal, the home of his ancestors, in the company of a chimp called Odo.
These stories of journeying to seek a spiritual home are woven by Martel into a moving, atmospheric book, funny at times, profound at others in which topics as diverse as Agatha Christie murder mysteries and slavery find a place. Three journeys, three broken hearts , two questions - what is a life without stories and how do you choose between reason and faith?
We concluded: you take your own messages from this book and make your own sense of it .
We spent two hours reviewing it and everyone brought a unique contribution to the discussion. No wonder we needed two cups of tea !
Our next meeting is on Monday October 11th when we will review The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain.
Jane Rose & Annabelle Birchall