My first thought when I read the bookflap was, My word, this could be another The White Mary. Young adventurer/doctor/scientist/journalist discovers a lost people in a remote place and comes away with a new sense of self. Or a cure for aging. Either way.
Also? There were tasty turtles involved. Who can say no to tasty turtles?
So I dug in, excited about the buzz and the journey. And then I ran smack dab in the brick wall of the voice. The voice was all at all, “Come here and listen to this story I’m telling you.” It was more, “Well a long time ago this thing happened and, well let me sidetrack and tell you about this other unrelated thing, and every other thing under the sun.” I am not a big fan of those dry, rambling voices.
Okay, so I wasn’t really digging the voice. What about characters? The main character, Dr. Norton Perina who is retelling his life’s story, he is not the most loveable character in the world. Neither is he fun to hate. He’s…boring. And makes poor decisions. For boring reasons. Entirely uninteresting. I didn’t have any hope of the voice changing gears, but perhaps once Perina and his anthropologist partner got to this remote village, which was the focus of the plot, things would pick up, right? Perina might get a little more interesting? I sighed to myself over and over as I plugged on.
I was glad to find that the story did pick up as Perina and Tallent (his anthropologist) arrive on the island. All of the spoilers promised the book flap (don’t read it if you want more excitement and mystery in the plot…) come to pass. The beautiful descriptions offered by Yanagihara make up for the plodding (but thought-provoking) plot. It felt to me as if Yanagihara had spent a good deal more time developing the on-island scenes than the pre- or post-island happenings.
The much-talked about finale was as hard-to-read as promised, thought I can’t say it would deter me from recommending the book. The emotional distancing was more of a problem for me.
One final word: I happened check out The People in the Trees as an ebook from my local library. I don’t mind ebook reading; it’s convenient for when you’re on the go. However, the footnotes really did not translate to the ebook format. AT ALL. I’m all for footnotes – I loved the hell out of how Junot Diaz used them in The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. But in TPitT, if you clicked on the footnote, you were redirected to the appropriate note – with no way to get back. I had to guess where I had been, or, if I knew, scroll back to that point. A return button would have made all the difference in the world. Needless to say, I stopped reading the footnotes after the first one.
Overall? 2 1/2 of 5 stars. Brilliant idea. Less than stellar execution. (Though I realize I’m in the minority here.)