Tuesday, November 15, 2016

High Mountains of Portugal-Yann Martel

The High Mountains of Portugal-Yann Martel

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 332
gender: M
nationality: Spain
year: 2016
novel

Tomás goes into the High Mountains on his few days off in search of a strange artifact to be found in a tiny village. Years later, his story intersects with a pathologist who is visited by an inhabitant of that village. Many years later, a Canadian senator seeks refuge in that same village, bringing a chimpanzee as his companion.

This is an inventive and compelling novel about grief. That´s what the three disparate plotlines are really about. I'm aware that is likely to be labeled as magical realism since the setting is mostly reality with a few "magical" or unexplainable aspects (all related to faith I might point out) and it's a favored label for Luso-Hispanic texts but I find myself wondering whether it's actual magic or simply the things grief does to our sense of reality. All of the magical elements are related, in part, to faith-the acceptance of the irrational. Things that are presented as one thing become something different all the time in this novel and sometimes it's overtly implied that it's simply a manifestation of the narrator's grief but when it is one of the threads linking the three main characters together, Martel just lets them go. Grief, the village setting, and the artifact all link the three main characters so I really don't think the magic must be real and it is actually a much more interesting novel if you consider the cultural notions that would manifest similar grief symptoms. Martel even has some of those overtly in this novel, the oldest story becomes almost a myth, a legend and aspects that were a singular experience morph into tradition without an origin story. These are all the almost subconscious collective memory of culture that underpin some of the more irrational seeming aspects of lives. Martel is a skilled storyteller and handles the various connecting threads well giving both overt and subtle links between the three stories. At times, he veers into too much detail which makes some parts feel repetitive (I'm looking at you, 3 instances of starting up the automobile on 2 pages!) but overall, this is a gentle novel to read.

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