Pat and the Eason Book Club read 'The High Mountains of Portugal'

The book was written by Yann Martel, who previously won the Booker Prize for 'Life of Pi'

Pat Kenny, Book Club, Eason, The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel

Eason Book Club members Katherine Lynch, Pat Kenny, Mary O'Rourke, and Brian Kennedy

Fresh from his interview with the award-winning writer Yann Martel, Pat Kenny and the other members of the Eason Book Club pored over the Canadian writer’s newest book, The High Mountains of Portugal. A mix of three stories, three broken hearts, the book asks its readers to reflect on life and loss, and asks them what is a life without stories?

To suffer and do nothing is to be nothing, while to suffer and do something is to become someone. In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomás discovers an old journal. It hints at the location of an extraordinary artefact that - if it exists - would redefine history. Travelling in one of Europe's earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this treasure.

Some thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist finds himself at the centre of a murder mystery. Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he comes to his ancestral village with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee.

Last week, Pat spoke to Canadian author Yann Martel about his career as a novelist. Listen back to that interview below:

“It’s an absolutely beautiful book,” former Fianna Fáil minister and Book Club member Mary O’Rourke said, “And I have to say that to you, and to Eason’s, and to readers all over Ireland.”

Gripped by the three separate stories, Mary was taken by the beautiful qualities of Martel’s prose, saying: “It’s like a poem. It’s like a lyric poem, some of the writing. It flows and flows and flows.”

Brian Kennedy, the singer-songwriter and novelist, shared Mary’s point of view, also honing in on Martel’s language, describing The High Mountains of Portugal as “very Life of Pi, it was full of this extraordinary, rich writing.”

Brian was also struck by how grief, a central theme of the novel, is divided by gendered lines.

“I just love the way it sums up men and women, ‘cos in grief, the women I know are ballin’ their eyes out, absolutely upfront with the grief. And men, what do we do? Walk backwards, with a primate, through the hills of Portugal.”

Katherine Lynch also loved the book, praising the delicate balancing act Martel pulls off in evoking the journey of discovery between man and ape. “It’s a beautiful story,” the comedienne said, “Of the relationship between man and ape and it delves right into the tenderness of grief and the journey you must take in grief.”

Somewhat less enthused than the Eason Book Club panel was Carina Furlong, who along with five other friends, a glass of red, and the odd dessert, meet up once a month in Co Kilkenny in The Rower Book Club.

Carina said her book club was quite divided on The High Mountains of Portugal, saying “We were quite glad we read it, but we definitely wouldn’t give it to anybody else.”

Finding the stories at times a bit laborious to work through, with a lot of detail woven into the narrative, The Rower Book Club wasn’t swept away by the book.

“I can’t imagine that people didn’t like it,” Mary O’Rourke said, “I just can’t fancy that.”

Katherine Lynch will choose March’s Book of the Month next week, picking from the following shortlist: An Affair with my Mother by Caitríona Palmer, Julia O’Faolain’s Under the Rose, Seamus Heaney’s new translation of Virgil’s Aeneid Book VI, and former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis’ debut novel The Butcher’s Hook.

Tune into The Pat Kenny Show next week to hear what Katherine Lynch chooses. You can listen back to the full segment from this morning’s show about The High Mountains of Portugal below:

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