Yann Martel's High Mountains of Portugal: Literary highs and lowly beasts

Some put animals on a pedestal, but Life of Pi author Yann Martel goes one step further: ranking them just shy of divine. No wonder then that Martel has woven yet another animal — a chimpanzee — into his latest novel The High Mountains of Portugal.
Yann Martel talks about his latest novel "The High Mountains of Portugal," and why he sent books to Stephen Harper but not Justin Trudeau 8:34

Some people put animals on a pedestal, but Life of Pi author Yann Martel goes one step further: ranking them just shy of divine.

"Certain religious figures like Jesus Christ or Buddha, they give off a strong sense of presence ... You always get the sense that they were strongly in the moment, so that when they addressed people, they were fully there for those people," Martel told Wendy Mesley on CBC's The National.  

"Animals are the same thing," he continued. "Your dog, your pet cat, they are right here, right now."

Canadian author Yann Martel's latest book is The High Mountains of Portugal. (Knopf Canada)

No wonder then, that Martel has woven yet another animal — a chimpanzee — into his latest novel The High Mountains of Portugal. His earlier, acclaimed Life of Pi centred on a teenaged boy lost at sea with a tiger, while his follow-up novel Beatrice and Virgil was an allegory of the Holocaust that featured a donkey and a monkey.

As much as he loves to ruminate on such hefty topics as religion, faith and love, Martel is also happy to tackle more terrestrial subjects, like the ups and downs of his career. He shrugs off, for instance, the largely negative reception that met Beatrice and Virgil.

"Art is a gift. You give it to the world. What someone does with your gift is their business not yours," Martel noted.

"Hopefully they'll like this one more. If they don't like this one, hopefully they'll like the next one," he said, adding that it's "better being a one-hit wonder than a no hit."

Man Booker winning author Yann Martel is seen in Ottawa earlier in February to promote his new book The High Mountains of Portugal. (CBC)

The author also doesn't shy away from Canadian politics. He famously sent Stephen Harper dozens of books and letters over several years, trying to goad the former prime minister to read and respond (which he never did).

However, Martel isn't planning to do the same for Justin Trudeau, saying he suspects that the former drama teacher has read some plays and "already has an openness."

"If someone else wants to send him books, they're welcome to," he added. 

"I have four children. I'm too busy with my own life. Someone else can send him books. Someone from Alberta."