This Flawless Place Between by Bruno Portier
|This Flawless Place Between by Bruno Portier|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: This book has an interesting approach as the author tries to make The Tibetan Book of the Dead more accessible by incorporating its teachings into modern day fiction. (The story of an American couple on a motorcycle tour of Tibet.) Portier is an excellent writer but this is perhaps a niche novel in the same way that Marmite is a niche spread.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 208||Date: April 2012|
|Publisher: Oneworld Publications|
|External links: Author's website|
If you fancy reading something a bit different, writer and filmmaker Bruno Portier may have written just the book.
Americans Anne and her partner, Evan, leave Anne's small daughter with the grandparents so that the couple can go on a 3 week motorbike tour of Tibet. Whilst away, things go awry for the two holidaymakers and so The Flawless Place Between traces their respective onward journeys.
I'm going to try hard not to give away any more than the jacket does, but since the book is based around The Tibetan Book of the Dead (or Bardo Thodol Chenmo to give it its original title) at least one of the plot points is pretty hard to hide. The name of the novel itself refers to a state that Buddhists believe the soul exists in between the death of the earthly body and reincarnation. Basically Portier wanted to bring the philosophical teachings to a wider audience and hit upon the idea of incorporating them into a novel. This Flawless Place Between has an ethereal other-worldliness about it in the same way as the 1970s cult classic Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, as mentioned in the book blurb. The question is does Bruno Portier add any substance to the ether?
Portier reveals himself to be a very good writer so the answer must be 'yes'. I found Anne and Evan's story engagingly beautiful. I liked Evan immensely but wasn't so keen on Anne but this had nothing to do with the writing. To begin with she comes over as the worst type of over-protective mother. However as the story unfolds via flashbacks and touching, clever moments from other planes, reasons are revealed. I would have liked to learn more of Henry, the father of Anne's daughter, but whatever is revealed of him comes understandably via Anne's eyes and (again for reasons that become clear) these memories aren't going to be detailed or complimentary whilst remaining true to Anne's character. I could have done without the ghoulish descriptions of various stages of a human body's decomposition. Even as an ex-nurse I felt my stomach turn in protest, but these are very short and, with a little practice, you can spot and skip them reasonably easily. Having said that, this was the only fault I could find with the story itself.
So, after looking at the story we come to the philosophical content. The quotes and explanations from the Tibetan text are delivered by an elderly Tibetan character of whom I won't disclose too much as I may drift into spoiler country. Suffice to say that the translation and application is woven through the novel in paragraphs that relate to the stage reached. For me the problem is that I liked the story so much, I lost patience with the philosophy after the novelty wore off early on as it seemed a constant interruption. I wanted to read about Anne and Evan more than I wanted to learn about Buddhist literature and I found myself skipping these sections so that I could make the story flow continuously. Hopefully this will be seen as a compliment to the author's writing rather than an insult to his ethos.
I have a suspicion that Bruno Portier has produced a novel that will divide. Some of you will fall in love with it totally, carry it around (indeed, it's handbag-sized) and commit passages to heart. Some, like me will love the story but almost resent the philosophy for getting in the way. Then there are those who will feel that the whole book is total tosh. My suggestion would therefore be that you borrow a copy from the library or an accommodating friend so that you can diagnose your own category and follow your heart in whichever direction it leads. There's good news for those of you whose hearts lead to its purchase – you don't have too long to wait for a sequel.
I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.
If you would like to read more about Tibet and Buddhism, try A Year in Tibet by Sun Shuyun. If, on the other hand, you would prefer a novel (rather than non-fiction) that looks into Buddhism alongside other eastern philosophies, The Red Book by Meaghan Delahunt may pique your interest.
You can read more book reviews or buy This Flawless Place Between by Bruno Portier at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy This Flawless Place Between by Bruno Portier at Amazon.com.
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