Another novel that couldn’t hold my interest enough for me to actually finish and review it in time for Canada Day (not to mention that I was in LA that weekend so reading time was limited to begin with). I was a very late comer to Life of Pi because despite the acclaim something about the description always made me hesitate (philosophy – no thank you!). And yet, when I finally read it two or three years ago (after the movie release even), I enjoyed it. I liked the way he used allegory and allusions, and thought it was incredibly moving. It was one of the novels where after a twist at the end, it makes the reader reflect back and think, “oh, and then that meant this …”
This novel absolutely has some of the same elements as Life of Pi – animals, parts that could be read as magical realism or allegory, people with touching back stories. The novel contains three loosely interconnected stories set throughout the 20th century. The first of these involves Tomas, a man in his mid to late 20s, living in 1904 Lisbon dealing with personal loss. His grief sends him on a quest to the titular mountains, the consequences of which will end up echoing throughout the decades in unforeseen ways. The second part takes place entirely during one night at the end of 1938 and follows a pathologist who has an intense theological discussion comparing the Bible to Agatha Christie (mostly intriguing) with his wife, and conducts an autopsy on an old man from the mountains. Finally, Peter is a government official in 1980’s Canada whose wife has died recently. On an impulse during a visit to animal research center (or refuge), Peter buys one of the chimpanzees, and uproots his life by moving back to his family home town in Portugal since he doesn’t want to free the ape from one cage only to put him in another.
The characters were mostly perfectly nice and interesting, the way the stories ended up being connected was well done, but as a whole, this one didn’t hook me. Tomas goes on a ridiculous quest, learning to drive as he is on his quest, and while there is a certain amount of humor involved in this, it fell flat for me. Given the result of his venture, I ended up more frustrated and perturbed with him after already being irritated with his rather hapless approach towards a road trip, losing much of the sympathy and pity I had previously felt towards him.
Half of the second part was a mostly intriguing monologue that went on just a bit too long but it definitely didn’t make this one much of a page turner. Even when the third part returns to a more plot focused narrative, the novel never went beyond, “this is fine” and “oh, here’s a connection” for me.
I’m sure at least part of this is simply a matter of my mood and the book not aligning. My reading tastes have definitely gravitated more towards plot driven stories lately, with historical mysteries, historical romances and fantasy stories dominating. Still, I’ve also been enjoying many of the novels from Reese Witherspoon’s recommendations so it’s not that I can’t enjoy a quieter novel. This one simply wasn’t the right match for me.
More of a 2.5 for me (I don’t normally point half ratings out but I didn’t dislike this as much as my 2 star reviews, but it also feels unfair to some of my 3 star reads to not point it out; it was the definition of meh for me despite obviously being well thought out and such).