In The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel’s mix of the fantastic and the mundane feels as crisp and fresh as morning sunlight on a cold spring day. It’s written as a triptych, three narratives that might seem separate but reveal themselves to be cut from the same slice of writerly reality. The seamless blend of gritty details, real and imagined, with characters who seem like they walked off the street and into the novel, lend the reading experience the feel of a particularly vivid dream.
In one opening segment, Tomás sets off in search of a peculiar religious artifact. If I say there’s a bit of a Lovecraftian feel at work, it tells you more about my reading than the book itself but both authors play with the power of suggestion. In the second segment, we experience an unusual autopsy that leads to a unique take on Agatha Christie. In the third section, we meet a man who is moving to a remote locale.
Putting this all together is the where the fun comes from, along with a powerful feel of – nostalgia – whimsy? – or even, wonder? Whatever it is, it’s only to be found here and it is well worth seeking out. The prose is an understated star, and the book pulls you in to a place from which you’ll not willingly depart. The book manages to feel as if it is from the world it creates. It’s not this world, but it’s not different. We see it more clearly through the prose lends of Yann Martel. You may need glasses to read this book; but this book is itself a pair of glasses. Prepare to see clearly, as in the morning sunlight on a crisp cold spring day.
I spoke with Yann Martel about his novel. You can hear my Narrative Species Interview by following this link to the MP3 audio file:
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