The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel is split into three parts, all of which combine to take the reader on a journey through Portugal through different times. The first story takes place in 1904, where young Tomás finds a journal hinting at an artifact that could change history. The second story occurs thirty-five years in the future and, among other things, deals with the ramifications of Tomás’ quest. The final store, as you might expect, brings everything together and concludes the story.
I read this one as part of my book club, though I had already had some experience with Yann Martel’s work. Specifically, I read Life of Pi a few years back. I do not remember it much, but I think it was, at least, mildly interesting.
While the premise of this book seemed intriguing to me, in the end it was not my cup of tea. I was not that invested in the characters, nor was I hooked by the story line. Thus, if your tastes are just about the same as mine, I might keep this one low on your list.
However, I would like to talk about a few things. The quality of the writing itself was high. It was not as if the writing was terrible and I could not stand to read any further. The book does make an attempt to encapsulate the theme of grief which many readers found moving, based on other reviews I have consulted. Perhaps they are able to connect to the book in different ways simply because of their past personal experiences.
I can see why the author chose to include three stories in the book, but I wonder what the effect would have been if all three stories took place in the same time—perhaps the characters were interconnected directly?
If the description of the book at the beginning of this post intrigued you in some way, I would still consider picking up a copy and giving it a shot. If you have not read Life of Pi yet, however, I would pick that one up first. The quality of the writing mechanics and style in both books is roughly the same, though I personally found Life of Pi was the superior novel.
I would actually recommend The High Mountains of Portugal to those who enjoy short story collections. Why? The combination of the three stories felt more like a collection, in my opinion, rather than one novel—even with the connections.
If you do choose to give this book a try, I would love to hear what you think about it! Which of the three stories did you enjoy the most? Do you think the walking backwards had a place? Was the title appropriate? Start a discussion in the comments! I am sure we can all bring some great insight into the book.
Title: The High Mountains of Portugal
Author: Yann Martel
Publisher: Knopf Canada