Book Review – The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel



  •    Book: The High Mountains of Portugal
  •    Author: Yann Martel
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2016
  •    Read 337-page paperback edition in June 2016.

Book Description:

This three part novel opens in the dawn of the 1900s, with spiritual Tomas taking a break from his job to search for a special archaeological find that he has read about. If he finds this object, somewhere in the High Mountains of Portugal, it will revolutionize Christianity itself. But he must also battle his own demons of guilt, sadness, and mourning.

In the second part, a pathologist in the 1940s who loves Agatha Chrisie novels reminisces about the love he has for his wife, before performing a bizarre autopsy on someone from the High Mountains of Portugal.

In the third part of the novel, a Canadian Senator in the 1980s who is grieving his recently deceased wife decides to return to his homeland in northern Portugal. Before he leaves however, he decides to bring along a chimpanzee that he has met in a sanctuary, and who he has grown attached to.

Book Review:

Looking at this novel, one can at first say that it was admittedly a difficult one to get involved in and get invested in. One reason for this is that the narrative in the three parts, while they do come together to some degree at the end, starts off quite slow. I would suggest that they are ordered from slowest and weakest in part one, to best and most interesting in part three.

However, a more important reason why this novel was difficult to become invested and interested with was that it was difficult to truly understand the purpose of the novel.

Although Martel does write this literary fiction with some great descriptions, observations on the human condition, and references to the Portuguese people and setting, the question that kept coming to my mind was what the real purpose of this novel was. There were long parts of narrative, particularly in part one, which seemed to be filler dialogue, making no sense as to why it was included or how it was important to the overall storyline. Long descriptions of the way an old car operates in part one, or even the Agatha Christie / Jesus Christ speech in part two, while interesting, sometimes felt too lengthy, and led to the reader losing interest.

Although some of the characters were intriguing and enjoyable to read about, such as Peter and Odo in part three, other characters did not hold the reader’s interest. Although there were some interesting elements in the novel, including the magical realism and modern-day fable sections in parts two and three, there were just as many sections of the novel that were too drawn out and plain uninteresting.

Overall, this had some interesting concepts, and the attempt to bring the three parts together was creative, but in the end, many sections of the novel, particularly early in the narrative, felt slow and draining.

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars