Ape and Essence


As I get older and more cynical it’s often hard to find books that will engage me. Everything seems tired and done before (or maybe I’m just tired and done before)

So it was with no little pleasure that I discovered Yann Martel’s new novel ‘The High Mountains of Portugal’.

The Canadian author is responsible for the massively popular ‘Life of Pi’, which was turned into a successful film by Ang Lee, and this book in some respects is cut from the same cloth.

It’s fantastical and allegorical by turns but unlike ‘Life of Pi’ it’s a story divided into three separate and seemingly unrelated tales.

The first, set in 1920’s Portugal, features a young man’s journey in a new fangled automobile to discover what he thinks will be a valuable artifact.

The second concerns a pathologist visited by an elderly peasant woman who carries a suitcase that contains the body of her husband.

The final part of the trilogy tells of Canadian politician on a junket to Oklahoma, who visits an ape enclosure and decides to buy a chimp.

Somehow Martel makes these tales weave together to form a perfect whole to answer the question that is at the heart of the book. Is man a risen ape or a fallen angel? And does it really matter either way?


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