After recently reading and reviewing Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal, I’m still trying to decide what I thought of it.
It’s a very well written book. There’s no arguing with that. You feel like you’re jolting down the back roads of rural Portugal in an early automobile while you’re reading it. Or sitting in a morgue late at night. Or driving back home wondering why the heck you just bought a chimpanzee. Even though I’ve never done any of those things.
Martel captures the emotions of his characters very well, and by doing so he captures the reader just as tight. I struggled a little to get into the book, but once I was hooked I couldn’t put it down. Despite the excellent writing and the captivating characters, when I got to the end, I wasn’t quite satisfied.
I think leaving his readers unsatisfied is part of the fun for Martel. He did the same thing in Life of Pi. And while I admire his writing, I prefer my leisure reading to leave me more settled than his does. It sticks with you, which is always a compliment to any author, but not in a comfortable way.
One of the things they teach you about creative writing is that it’s okay to leave strings dangling. Leaving some things unresolved adds to the illusion that the world inside the book continues on after the last page. But I think Martel takes it too far the other way. One week after I finished reading his book, and I still feel like I need some closure.
So would I recommend Yann Martel? Sure, if you want to read a well written book that’s going to take you by surprise. But if you’re looking for something to leave you happy and contented when you reach the conclusion, this isn’t it.