After the Yann Martel event, I had a better understanding of The High Mountains of Portugal. I have to admit that reading the first two sections left me feeling confused and a bit incredulous at some of the content (which I will not share so that I don’t spoil the book for others). Understanding the goals and perspective of the author who was investigating faith provided additional information needed to finish and understand the last section of the book – perhaps this is a book that I should have started and finished after the author event.
In the first section, Homeless, the main character sets out on a quest to find a religious effigy in the high mountains of Portugal after the death of his lover, son and father. He has started walking backwards, turning his back on God and the world as a way to deal with his grief. He heads out on his quest in a newfangled car at a time when automobiles were rare. More tragedy occurs which impacts the outcome of the quest.
The next section, Homeward, takes place fifty years later when a pathologist is struggling with his faith. Much religious detail is described during a conversation with his wife. He considers his faith when he is visited, in the morgue, by a woman requesting him to complete an autopsy on her husband. I now understand that this was Martel’s comparison of Christianity to life and to the novels of Agatha Christie. It was a way to examine the life of Jesus as described in the gospels. I likely would have had a greater understanding of Homeward if I had read it after the event as I was distracted by some of the unbelievable details in this section.
The final section, another fifty years later, was Home and told the story of a senator, dealing with the loss of his wife, leaving his comfortable Canadian life as a senator and moving to his birthplace, the high mountains of Portugal. The pivot point to the change in his life happens when he adopts a chimpanzee and begins a new life without his family, without technology and even without electricity.
Like the moderator at the event shared, this needs to be read more than once to understand the details and metaphors that are included within the text. It is not an easy read but one that makes you ponder it after you have closed the novel for the evenings. Since the writing is based on the subheadings of the gospels having a greater understanding of the bible may have facilitated a deeper understanding.