Beatrice and Virgil

Beatrice and Virgil

3.4 159
by Yann Martel, Mark Bramhall
     
 

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Fate takes many forms. . . .
 
When Henry receives a letter from an elderly taxidermist, it poses a puzzle that he cannot resist. As he is pulled further into the world of this strange and calculating man, Henry becomes increasingly involved with the lives of a donkey and a howler monkey—named Beatrice and Virgil—and the epic journey

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Overview

Fate takes many forms. . . .
 
When Henry receives a letter from an elderly taxidermist, it poses a puzzle that he cannot resist. As he is pulled further into the world of this strange and calculating man, Henry becomes increasingly involved with the lives of a donkey and a howler monkey—named Beatrice and Virgil—and the epic journey they undertake together.

With all the spirit and originality that made Life of Pi so beloved, this brilliant new novel takes the reader on a haunting odyssey. On the way Martel asks profound questions about life and art, truth and deception, responsibility and complicity.
 

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Whimsy takes a deadly serious turn in a novel that will enchant some readers and exasperate others. The Canadian author's previous novel (Life of Pi, 2001) won the Man Booker Prize, became a critically lauded bestseller and made legions of fans eager for a follow-up. Here it is, a meta-fictional shell game about a novelist who has experienced the same sort of success as Martel by writing a similar sort of animal-filled book, who attempts a follow-up (about the Holocaust) that mixes fact and fiction in a manner that advance readers find unsatisfying and who thus stops writing. His story reads something like a fable, since for the longest time the protagonist has only one name, Henry, and he and his wife move to a city that remains unidentified, though the narrative suggests it could be one of many. Instead of writing, Henry becomes involved with a chocolate shop and a theater troupe, and then he receives a package from a reader. The most accommodating bestselling author ever, Henry answers all his mail and goes to great lengths to track down the sender of this package, which contains a short story by Flaubert, a play with two characters-the title characters of this novel-and a plea for help. Henry's quest leads him to a mysterious taxidermist, also named Henry, whose shop seems to contain "all of creation stuffed into one large room," and who plies his trade in homage to Flaubert-"to bear witness." Uh-oh, allegory alert! Like a Russian doll, the novel contains parables within parables, as the play's Beatrice and Virgil (from Dante, of course) turn out to be a donkey and a monkey, and their dialogue sounds like Aesop filtered through Samuel Beckett ("This road must lead somewhere"/ "Is itsomewhere we want to be?"). Henry agrees to help with the play that has been the taxidermist's life's work, thus breaking the novelist's writer's block, though at a great price. As Henry asks Henry, "Symbolic of what?"
Publishers Weekly
Megaselling Life of Pi author Martel addresses, in this clunky metanarrative, the violent legacy of the 20th century with an alter ego: Henry L'Hôte, an author with a very Martel-like CV who, after a massively successful first novel, gives up writing. Henry and his wife, Sarah, move to a big city (“Perhaps it was New York. Perhaps it was Paris. Perhaps it was Berlin”), where Henry finds satisfying work in a chocolatería and acting in an amateur theater troupe. All is well until he receives a package containing a short story by Flaubert and an excerpt from an unknown play. His curiosity about the sender leads him to a taxidermist named Henry who insists that Henry-the-author help him write a play about a monkey and a donkey. Henry-the-author is at first intrigued by sweet Beatrice, the donkey, and Virgil, her monkey companion, but the animals' increasing peril draws Henry into the taxidermist's brutally absurd world. Martel's aims are ambitious, but the prose is amateur and the characters thin, the coy self-referentiality grates, and the fable at the center of the novel is unbearably self-conscious. When Martel (rather energetically) tries to tug our heartstrings, we're likely to feel more manipulated than moved. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR BEATRICE AND VIRGIL

“Dark but divine…This novel might just be a masterpiece about the Holocaust…Martel brilliantly guides the reader from the too-sunny beginning into the terrifying darkness of the old man's shop and Europe's past. Everything comes into focus by the end, leaving the reader startled, astonished, and moved.” USA Today
 
“… a slim but potent exploration of the nature of survival in the face of evil…Beatrice and Virgil is a chilling addition to the literature about the horrors most of us cannot imagine, and will stir its readers to think about the depths of depravity to which humanity can sink and the amplitude of our capacity to survive.”
—Nina Sankovitch, The Huffington Post
 
"Those spell-bound by Man Booker prize-winning Life of Pi will find much to love in Yann Martel’s new work of fiction… In Beatrice and Virgil, Martel again evokes the power of allegory, this time to address the legacy of the Holocaust—as well as the pleasure of fairy tales. At the heart of this novel are questions about truth and illusion, responsibility and innocence, and Martel is able to employ Beatrice and Virgil as sympathetic, nuanced vehicles for his vision. Beatrice and Virgil is a thought-provoking delight."Marie Claire

"Martel's Life of Pi engaged readers with the predicament of a shipwrecked boy and tiger; his new fable is just as inventive, provocative, and artful—only this time the peril is genocide."Good Housekeeping

"Dark but divine…This novel might just be a masterpiece about the Holocaust…Martel brilliantly guides the reader from the too-sunny beginning into the terrifying darkness of the old man's shop and Europe's past. Everything comes into focus by the end, leaving the reader startled, astonished, and moved."—USA Today

"Brilliant…with this short, crisply written, many-layered book, Martel has once again demonstrated that nothing tells the truth like fiction.... Another philosophical winner."The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Has many wonders…Martel’s latest book does something extraordinary. It causes the reader to contemplate serious ideas, and to think. Beatrice and Virgil will haunt you long after the final page."—BookPage

"If Beatrice and Virgil were a piece of music, it would be an extended fugue, beginning so quietly as to be almost inaudible, and culminating in a moment of overwhelming noise followed by silence…There is indeed no exit from Beatrice and Virgil, not even when the book culminates in its final moment of overwhelming crescendo, as Martel’s characters find themselves trapped in an eruption of hell-like flames. Like the echoing themes of a fugue, all the components of the Martel’s novel fit tightly together, leading up to one ultimate moment of terror."—The Harvard Crimson

PRAISE FOR LIFE OF PI

"Life of Pi could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life."— The New York Times Book Review

"A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction."— Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A gripping adventure story . . . Laced with wit, spiced with terror, it's a book by an extraordinary talent."St. Paul Pioneer-Press

"A terrific book . . . Fresh, original, smart, devious, and crammed with absorbing lore."— Margaret Atwood

"An impassioned defense of zoos, a death-defying trans-Pacific sea adventure a la Kon-Tiki, and a hilarious shaggy-dog story . . . : This audacious novel manages to be all of these." The New Yorker

"Readers familiar with Margaret Atwood, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje and Carol Shields should learn to make room on the map of contemporary Canadian fiction for the formidable Yann Martel." Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307715159
Publisher:
Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/13/2010
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 6.04(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

Henry’s second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name, had done well. It had won prizes and was translated into dozens of languages. Henry was invited to book launches and literary festivals around the world; countless schools and book clubs adopted the book; he regularly saw people reading it on planes and trains; Hollywood was set to turn it into a movie; and so on and so forth.

Henry continued to live what was essentially a normal, anonymous life. Writers seldom become public figures. It’s their books that rightly hog all the publicity. Readers will easily recognize the cover of a book they’ve read, but in a café that man over there, is that . . . is that . . . well, it’s hard to tell—doesn’t he have long hair?—oh, he’s gone.

When he was recognized, Henry didn’t mind. In his experience, the encounter with a reader was a pleasure. After all, they’d read his book and it had an impact, otherwise why would they come up to him? The meeting had an intimate quality; two strangers were coming together, but to discuss an external matter, a faith object that had moved them both, so all barriers fell. This was no place for lies or bombast. Voices were quiet; bodies leaned close together; selves were revealed. Sometimes personal confessions were made. One reader told Henry he’d read the novel in prison. Another that she’d read it while battling cancer. A father shared that his family had read it aloud in the aftermath of the premature birth and eventual death of their baby. And there were other such encounters. In each case, an element of his novel—a line, a character, an incident, a symbol—had helped them pull through a crisis in their lives. Some of the readers Henry met became quite emotional. This never failed to affect him and he tried his best to respond in a manner that soothed them.

In the more typical encounters, readers simply wanted to express their appreciation and admiration, now and again accompanied by a material token, a present made or bought: a snapshot, a bookmark, a book. They might have a question or two they hoped to ask, timidly, not meaning to bother. They were grateful for whatever answer he might give. They took the book he signed and held it to their chest with both hands. The bolder ones, usually but not always teenagers, sometimes asked if they could have their picture taken with him. Henry would stand, an arm over their shoulders, smiling at the camera.

Readers walked away, their faces lit up because they’d met him, while his was lit up because he’d met them. Henry had written a novel because there was a hole in him that needed filling, a question that needed answering, a patch of canvas that needed painting—that blend of anxiety, curiosity and joy that is at the origin of art—and he had filled the hole, answered the question, splashed colour on the canvas, all done for himself, because he had to. Then complete strangers told him that his book had filled a hole in them, had answered a question, had brought colour to their lives. The comfort of strangers, be it a smile, a pat on the shoulder or a word of praise, is truly a comfort.

As for fame, fame felt like nothing. Fame was not a sensation like love or hunger or loneliness, welling from within and invisible to the outside eye. It was rather entirely external, coming from the minds of others. It existed in the way people looked at him or behaved towards him. In that, being famous was no different from being gay, or Jewish, or from a visible minority: you are who you are, and then people project onto you some notion they have. Henry was essentially unchanged by the success of his novel. He was the same person he had been before, with the same strengths and the same weaknesses. On the rare occasions when he was approached by a reader in a disagreeable way, he had the last weapon of the writer working under a pseudonym: no, he wasn’t XXX, he was just a guy named Henry.

Eventually the business of personally promoting his novel died down, and Henry returned to an existence where he could sit quietly in a room for weeks and months on end. He wrote another book. It involved five years of thinking, researching, writing, and rewriting. The fate of that book is not immaterial to what happened next to Henry, so it bears being described.

The book Henry wrote was in two parts, and he intended them to be published in what the publishing trade calls a flip book: that is, a book with two sets of distinct pages that are attached to a common spine upside down and back-to-back to each other. If you flick your thumb through a flip book, the pages, halfway along, will appear upside down. A head-to-tails flip of the conjoined book will bring you to its fraternal twin. So the name flip book.

Henry chose this unusual format because he was concerned with how best to present two literary wares that shared the same title, the same theme, the same concern, but not the same method. He’d in fact written two books: one was a novel, while the other was a piece of nonfiction, an essay. He had taken this double approach because he felt he needed every means at his disposal to tackle his chosen subject. But fiction and nonfiction are very rarely published in the same book. That was the hitch. Tradition holds that the two must be kept apart. That is how our knowledge and impressions of life are sorted in bookstores and libraries—separate aisles, separate floors—and that is how publishers prepare their books, imagination in one package, reason in another. It’s not how writers write. A novel is not an entirely unreasonable creation, nor is an essay devoid of imagination. Nor is it how people live. People don’t so rigorously separate the imaginative from the rational in their thinking and in their actions. There are truths and there are lies—these are the transcendent categories, in books as in life. The useful division is between the fiction and nonfiction that speaks the truth and the fiction and nonfiction that utters lies.

Still, the custom, a set way of thinking, posed a problem, Henry realized. If his novel and essay were published separately, as two books, their complementarity would not be so evident and their synergy would likely be lost. They had to be published together. But in what order? The idea of placing the essay before the novel struck Henry as unacceptable. Fiction, being closer to the full experience of life, should take precedence over nonfiction. Stories—individual stories, family stories, national stories—are what stitch together the disparate elements of human existence into a coherent whole. We are story animals. It would not be fitting to place such a grand expression of our being behind a more limited act of exploratory reasoning. But behind serious nonfiction lies the same fact and preoccupation as behind fiction—of being human and what it means—so why should the essay be slotted as an afterword?

Regardless of meritorious status, if novel and essay were published in a sequence in one book, whichever came first would inevitably cast into shadow whichever came second.

Their similarities called for novel and essay to be published together; respect for the rights of each, separately. Hence, after much thinking on Henry’s part, the choice of the flip book.

Once he had settled on this format, new advantages leapt to his mind. The event at the heart of his book was, and still is, profoundly distressing—threw the world upside down, it might be said—so how fitting that the book itself should always be half upside down. Furthermore, if it was published as a flip book, the reader would have to choose in which order to read it. Readers inclined to seek help and reassurance in reason would perhaps read the essay first. Those more comfortable with the more directly emotional approach of fiction might rather start with the novel. Either way, the choice would be the reader’s, and empowerment, the possibility of choice, when dealing with upsetting matters, is a good thing. Lastly, there was the detail that a flip book has two front covers. Henry saw more to wraparound jacket art than just added aesthetics. A flip book is a book with two front doors, but no exit. Its form embodies the notion that the matter discussed within has no resolution, no back cover that can be neatly, patly closed on it. Rather, the matter is never finished with; always the reader is brought to a central page where, because the text now appears upside down, the reader is made to understand that he or she has not understood, that he or she cannot fully understand, but must think again in a different way and start all over. With this in mind, Henry thought that the two books should end on the same page, with only a blank space between the topsy-turvy texts. Perhaps there could be a simple drawing in that no-man’s-land between fiction and nonfiction.

To make things confusing, the term flip book also applies to a novelty item, a small book with a series of slightly changed images or photographs on succeeding pages; when the pages are flicked through quickly, the illusion of animation is created, of a horse galloping and jumping, for example. Later on, Henry had plenty of time to dwell on what cartoon story his flip book would tell if it had been this other type: it would be of a man confidently walking, head high, until he trips and stumbles and falls in a most spectacular fashion.

It should be mentioned, because it is central to the difficulties Henry encountered, to his tripping and stumbling and falling, that his flip book concerned the murder of millions of civilian Jews—men, women, children—by the Nazis and their many willing collaborators in Europe last century, that horrific and protracted outbreak of Jew-hatred that is widely known, by an odd convention that has appropriated a religious term, as the Holocaust. Specifically, Henry’s double book was about the ways in which that event was represented in stories. Henry had noticed over years of reading books and watching movies how little actual fiction there was about the Holocaust. The take on the event was nearly always historical, factual, documentary, anecdotal, testimonial, literal. The archetypal document on the event was the survivor’s memoir, Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man, for instance. Whereas war—to take another cataclysmic human event—was constantly being turned into something else. War was forever being trivialized, that is, made less than it truly is. Modern wars have killed tens of millions of people and devastated entire countries, yet representations that convey the real nature of war have to jostle to be seen, heard and read amidst the war thrillers, the war comedies, the war romances, the war science fictions, the war propaganda. Yet who thinks of “trivialization” and “war” in the same breath? Has any veterans’ group ever made the complaint? No, because that’s just how we talk about war, in many ways and for many purposes. With these diverse representations, we come to understand what war means to us.

No such poetic licence was taken with—or given to—the Holocaust. That terrifying event was overwhelmingly represented by a single school: historical realism. The story, always the same story, was always framed by the same dates, set in the same places, featuring the same cast of characters. There were some exceptions. Henry could think of Maus, by the American graphic artist Art Spiegelman. David Grossman’s See Under: Love also took a different approach. But even with these, the peculiar gravity of the event pulled the reader back to the original and literal historical facts. If a story started later or elsewhere, the reader was inevitably marched back in time and across borders to 1943 and to Poland, like the protagonist in Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow. And so Henry came to wonder: why this suspicion of the imagination, why the resistance to artful metaphor? A work of art works because it is true, not because it is real. Was there not a danger to representing the Holocaust in a way always beholden to factuality? Surely, amidst the texts that related what happened, those vital and necessary diaries, memoirs and histories, there was a spot for the imagination’s commentary. Other events in history, including horrifying ones, had been treated by artists, and for the greater good. To take just three well-known instances of artful witness: Orwell with Animal Farm, Camus with The Plague, Picasso with Guernica. In each case the artist had taken a vast, sprawling tragedy, had found its heart, and had represented it in a nonliteral and compact way. The unwieldy encumbrance of history was reduced and packed into a suitcase. Art as suitcase, light, portable, essential—was such a treatment not possible, indeed, was it not necessary, with the greatest tragedy of Europe’s Jews?

To exemplify and argue this supplementary way of thinking about the Holocaust, Henry had written his novel and essay. Five years of hard work it had taken him. After he had finished, the dual manuscript was circulated among his various publishers. That’s when he was invited to a lunch. Remember the man in the flip book who trips and stumbles and falls. Henry was flown over the Atlantic just for this lunch. It took place in London one spring during the London Book Fair. Henry’s editors, four of them, had invited a historian and a bookseller to join them, which Henry took as a sign of double approval, theoretical and commercial. He didn’t see at all what was coming. The restaurant was posh, Art Deco in style. Their table, along its two long sides, was gracefully curved, giving it the shape of an eye. A matching curved bench was set into the wall on one side of it. “Why don’t you sit there?” one of his editors said, pointing to the middle of the bench. Yes, Henry thought, where else would an author with a new book sit but there, like a bride and groom at the head table. An editor settled on either side of him. Facing them, on four chairs along the opposite curved edge of the table, sat an editor on each side of the historian and the bookseller. Despite the formal setting, it was a cozy arrangement. The waiter brought over the menus and explained the fancy specials of the day. Henry was in high spirits. He thought they were a wedding party.

In fact, they were a firing squad.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR BEATRICE AND VIRGIL

“Dark but divine…This novel might just be a masterpiece about the Holocaust…Martel brilliantly guides the reader from the too-sunny beginning into the terrifying darkness of the old man's shop and Europe's past. Everything comes into focus by the end, leaving the reader startled, astonished, and moved.” USA Today
 
“… a slim but potent exploration of the nature of survival in the face of evil…Beatrice and Virgil is a chilling addition to the literature about the horrors most of us cannot imagine, and will stir its readers to think about the depths of depravity to which humanity can sink and the amplitude of our capacity to survive.”
—Nina Sankovitch, The Huffington Post
 
"Those spell-bound by Man Booker prize-winning Life of Pi will find much to love in Yann Martel’s new work of fiction… In Beatrice and Virgil, Martel again evokes the power of allegory, this time to address the legacy of the Holocaust—as well as the pleasure of fairy tales. At the heart of this novel are questions about truth and illusion, responsibility and innocence, and Martel is able to employ Beatrice and Virgil as sympathetic, nuanced vehicles for his vision. Beatrice and Virgil is a thought-provoking delight."Marie Claire

"Martel's Life of Pi engaged readers with the predicament of a shipwrecked boy and tiger; his new fable is just as inventive, provocative, and artful—only this time the peril is genocide."Good Housekeeping

"Dark but divine…This novel might just be a masterpiece about the Holocaust…Martel brilliantly guides the reader from the too-sunny beginning into the terrifying darkness of the old man's shop and Europe's past. Everything comes into focus by the end, leaving the reader startled, astonished, and moved."—USA Today

"Brilliant…with this short, crisply written, many-layered book, Martel has once again demonstrated that nothing tells the truth like fiction.... Another philosophical winner."The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Has many wonders…Martel’s latest book does something extraordinary. It causes the reader to contemplate serious ideas, and to think. Beatrice and Virgil will haunt you long after the final page."—BookPage

"If Beatrice and Virgil were a piece of music, it would be an extended fugue, beginning so quietly as to be almost inaudible, and culminating in a moment of overwhelming noise followed by silence…There is indeed no exit from Beatrice and Virgil, not even when the book culminates in its final moment of overwhelming crescendo, as Martel’s characters find themselves trapped in an eruption of hell-like flames. Like the echoing themes of a fugue, all the components of the Martel’s novel fit tightly together, leading up to one ultimate moment of terror."—The Harvard Crimson

PRAISE FOR LIFE OF PI

"Life of Pi could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life."— The New York Times Book Review

"A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction."— Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A gripping adventure story . . . Laced with wit, spiced with terror, it's a book by an extraordinary talent."St. Paul Pioneer-Press

"A terrific book . . . Fresh, original, smart, devious, and crammed with absorbing lore."— Margaret Atwood

"An impassioned defense of zoos, a death-defying trans-Pacific sea adventure a la Kon-Tiki, and a hilarious shaggy-dog story . . . : This audacious novel manages to be all of these." The New Yorker

"Readers familiar with Margaret Atwood, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje and Carol Shields should learn to make room on the map of contemporary Canadian fiction for the formidable Yann Martel." Chicago Tribune

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Meet the Author

Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963. After studying philosophy at university, he worked odd jobs and traveled before turning to writing at the age of twenty-six. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed 2002 Man Booker Prize–winning novel Life of Pi, which was translated into thirty-eight languages and spent fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.  Yann Martel lives in Saskatchewan, Canada.
 

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Date of Birth:
June 25, 1963
Place of Birth:
Salamanca, Spain
Education:
B.A. in philosophy, Trent University, Ontario, 1986

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Beatrice and Virgil 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 159 reviews.
Zandokahn More than 1 year ago
Wow. This is one of the most memorable books I have ever read. (I got an advance copy). Martel is both a thinker and an entertainer and a magician. This book is about a zillion things: about story telling, about unreliable authors, a stuffed howler monkey and a stuffed donkey. It steals from Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and pays homage to it. It is also about the holocaust and not about the holocaust and about an animal holocaust. It is funny one second and chilling another. The end is positively disturbing for many reasons (I don't want to spoil it.) I think this will be a controversial book in that it attempts to make art out of the holocaust. There are those who think that is totally wrong. The point is to bear witness to such an event. Not to transform it into a thing of whimsy and cleverness (along with horror). I'm not sure where I stand on this. And, frankly, I'm not quite sure where Martel stands. Can you say book club discussion?
liannh More than 1 year ago
On the surface, this is the story of a well-known author and his rather tension-filled relationship with a taxidermist who seeks his help. But there are many, many currents running beneath the surface. A difficult book to describe. Here we are asked to consider (among other things) man's cruelty toward other men; his cruelty toward animals; his ability to look the other way when confronted with evil, and his lack of language to describe these things. It may sound bleak, but it is not entirely so. It is beautifully written. I hate to give out too much information, as this book needs to be read without too much foreknowledge. It is asking you to think and feel for yourself, and to gauge your own reactions to events. This is a haunting book that will not quickly be forgotten. Recommended. (I read an advance copy of this book).
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
This book blew my mind. Henry the writer, meets Henry the taxidermist but the taxidermist is also a writer and has written a play about a donkey named Beatrice. and a howler monkey named Virgil. Beatrice and Virgil have long discussions about life, both the good and the bad but there's a problem. The taxidermist needs the writer's help in completing the play as the characters are not as fully fleshed out as they could be. This passage appears on page 80 of the ARC that I have: Henry: Off the top of my head, without any preparation or much thought, I'd say Virgil has the pleasing dimensions of a smaller dog, neither too bulky nor too slight. I'd say he has a handsome head, with a short snout, luminous reddish-brown eyes, small black ears, and a clear black face-actually, it's not just black-a clear bluish-black face fringed with a full, elegant beard. Taxidermist: Very good. Much better than what I have. Please continue. The play continues to unfold in this manner. The taxidermist tosses out a bit of info here and there and Henry the writer, takes it all in, provides help when he can and finds himself completely obsessed with the stuffed animals that this play centers around. Additionally, Henry the writer recently wrote a book of his own that bombed in a big way so helping in this manner is sort of like writing, but not. I won't say much more about the plot as you must experience it on your own, but it touches on the interaction between humans and animals, humans and other humans and the fact that evil comes in all forms. Once you figure out what is going on, and where the story is going, you continue to turn the pages with dread but somehow find yourself unable to stop. Martel dangles the carrot so to speak, and you can't help but take a nibble. I'd like to warn you that although this book is not overly graphic, it is disturbing and dark and will leave you feeling overwhelmed with emotion. After reading it, I immediately deemed it brilliant but then felt silly for saying so, as I'm not sure the author's intent was to write something brilliant. I know that sounds odd because most writers probably strive to be brilliant, but it's so subtle. Whether that was the intent or not, it WAS brilliant and odd and different from anything I've ever read. Beatrice and Virgil will be on my list of favorites for 2010. Beatrice and Virgil officially comes out on April 13, 2010 but you can pre-order it now.
TheCrowdedLeaf More than 1 year ago
What is Beatrice And Virgil about? The question of "about-ness" is asked more than once in Yann Martel's latest novel. In reference to our main character Henry, "What is this book about?" is asked of his latest novel regarding the Holocaust. When Henry's publishers and editors don't "get" his work, he gives up writing for a time, moves to a big city with his wife, adopts a dog and cat, gets his wife pregnant, and meets another Henry; a taxidermist writing a play. In this play, the taxidermist has written about a donkey and a monkey, but they represent more than two animals. In Beatrice And Virgil, Martel has written about genocide, the Holocaust, cruelty, marriage, life, death, Flaubert, talking animals, and the interpretation of art. "It's all quite fanciful." as Henry says. It's hard to explain, or describe this work, and I think, perhaps, that's the whole point. Martel's last book was published many years ago, as is the case with his character Henry. His first book was about animals, likewise with Henry. So many themes resonate in Beatrice And Virgil that my head is spinning and I'm wondering, even as Henry is asked, what is this book about? If I took the strange otherworldlyness of Milan Kundera's Immortality and meshed it with the dark psychological twistedness of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, and then made the outcome pear-shaped, that is the general tone of Beatrice And Virgil. Surprisingly violent, a bit disturbing, ultimately strange and disquieting. I think I hate it. but I also think I like it. or at least respect it for whatever IT is. This book was a surprise. From the first page I thought I would love it. Martel's prose-style writing is magical and seductive. I thought, "I wish I could write like this." And then the bizarre plot came into focus and I felt as though I was watching something disturbing that I couldn't turn away from. Like I was in a dream, trying to scream, and no sound was coming out. Eyebrows furrowed, head scratched, questions raised, and little answers given. Even now, having just finished the book recently, I've no idea what I just read. Can't recall the ending, because there isn't one. And yet, I know it was good. Some people are going to love this book, it will be memorialized as a truly unique piece of written work. Other people will hate it, will say Martel's self-indulgence is over the top and it's all too dramatic. Still others will, like me, have little idea what they've got themselves into. They will wonder, "I thought this was a book about a donkey and a monkey?" They might even put it down if they haven't been educated with an appreciation of literature. But if they keep on reading, if they get to the end that isn't an end, and set it down completed, they will have learned or dislearned something, and it will have changed them, as all books should. 5 stars and one big question mark. (I received this book from the publisher for review)
DeDeFlowers More than 1 year ago
Until about 50 pages in I wasn't sure how I felt about Beatrice and Virgil. It had a story that didn't mean much and I didn't get it. If you feel this way, keep reading. This book changing very fast around page 50. This is a very moving novel. I think Yann Martel has achieved everything he wanted to with this book. It is an amazing take on the Holocaust. I feel like this is the type of story where the more you think about it, the more you will love it. Yann Martel is an amazing writer.
Annibebe More than 1 year ago
This book was intriguing and filled with wonderful prose, but I'm unsure if I would recommend it. It's odd, and definitely doesn't even compare to the Life of Pi which I highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yann Martel's ability to stretch a story beyond the reach of everyday imagination confounds me. He is one of the most effortless and eloquent writers of our time. This book changed the way I will think about a pear forever. After my husband and I read it, we bought a copy for every member of our family!
kld41 More than 1 year ago
No where near the caliber of Life of Pi. I was disappointed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is difficult to review this book without giving too much away. It is a book that invokes a great deal of emotion, sometimes confusion. Though secondary characters, Beatrice and Virgil crept into my heart - much as they did the main character- leaving me with their haunting memory. Yann Martel takes a very personal approach to communicating about the holocost without ever addressing it in a historical sense. Beatrice and Virgil illustrates the notions of innocence and blindness in the pursuit of passion before coming to an abrupt and chilling end. This book is masterful in it's ability to leave the reader as though having experienced the events of the book. *Spoiler- kind of* Because the bones of this book are about addressing violence that is unexpected and without apparent cause; I think it is necessary that the reader experiences the emotion of the book, because that seems to be the direction of the author. However, the spinning confusion that the reader is left with may require reading it a second or even third time.
C_Smith More than 1 year ago
I don't care how much you may have liked the "Life of Pi" (I loved the Life of Pi)... do yourself a favor and avoid this book. At first, when the book was just boring, I continued to listen to it thinking... it must get better than this. I was wrong. Being only boring was unfortunately one of this books best attributes. From there it rambled on until finally finishing with an ending that can only be described as absurd and horrific. I understand the attempt was to write an allegorical story about the Holocaust, but simply writing a list of the worst things you can imagine is not something I enjoy reading.
CaseyHvK More than 1 year ago
It is an interesting question: is it appropriate to write a work of pure fiction about the Holocaust? Perhaps a work of fiction regarding the Holocaust would succeed without the gratuitous violence. I certainly believe in reading about the horrors of history to help us understand what people have been through. It would be fair to include factual details in a historical account, no matter how distressing. However, with excessive creative license, and lack of reality, these details seem better suited for a horror novel. At least in a horror novel, the reader would have no right to be angry about being blindsided by horror. I wish Yann Martel had followed his characters' concepts for talking about the horrors. With so many listed ways to express and remember, why did Martel need to throw all of those excruciating details at his readers at the end of the book? Would I stand on my daughter's head if she was dead, and I was trying to survive? Please spare me the imagery. Dear Reader, sorry to expose you to that. If you'd like to avoid more of the same, avoid this book.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
"Beatrice and Virgil" by Yann Martel is a fictional book, a follow up to the author's wildly successful "Like of Pi". A strange story which is suppose to be an allegory for the Holocaust. Henry is a famous novelist who has moved with his wife to a new city (from Canada) and cannot find a paying job. Henry takes clarinet lessons, joins a theater company and entertains working in a chocolateria. An envelope arrives at his home which catches Henry's eye, it contains part of a play and a story by Gustave Flaubert called "The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator" which is about a boy who is mean to animals and is cursed because of it. The play is written by the sender and is about a donkey named Beatrice and a monkey named Virgil, Henry tracks down the play's author, a taxidermist who might have been a Nazi collaborator. I really didn't know what to think about "Beatrice and Virgil" by Yann Martel. I didn't like it yet didn't hate it either. I was impartial to the book, I wasn't offended, I wasn't touched and I didn't learn anything from it. Maybe it was because I looked forward to reading it. The narrator of the book is Henry, a famous author, who is taken by a play sent to him by one of this fans. The play is about a donkey named Beatrice and a monkey named Virgil. The author turns out to be a taxidermist who might have been a Nazi collaborator and the play is suppose to be an allegory for the suffering in the Holocaust. The taxidermist even has a stuffed donkey with a monkey on her back - get it? While I found the story of the author and the taxidermist somewhat interesting, the play within the novel was banal and bored me to tears (I don't like reading plays to begin with), the allegory to the Holocaust misguided and indifferent. It seems to me that Mr. Martel has written the play first and when he realizes that it's not going anywhere or simply just not that good or interesting, so he decided to frame a book around it. As mentioned, I was really looking forward to reading this book. I had relatives who were murdered by the Nazis, and relatives who obviously survived so I find the history not only fascinating but deeply personal as well. It is obvious to me that Mr. Martel sincerely set out to write a touching story which brings several sides (survivors, tormentors, witnesses) together in order to create an emotional story considering the consequences of the Holocaust on its victims. What I read though was a story which focused on the dramatic instead of giving the reader some insight.
Anonymous 19 hours ago
One of the most creative minds in literature today.
gavinreese14 More than 1 year ago
If you like and understand Yann Martel as an author you will live this book. It is a very powerful book with an unique twist of an ending that you won't see coming! If you like his other work don't hesitate to get this one. Its a great read on the Nook and just the right length... Not too long but not short either like some of the other people have said on here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I adore this book. It is profound and inspiring, yet still cleanly written and raw. The plight of a howler monkey and a donkey does not sound like the basis for a beautiful novel, but after reading Beatrice & Virgil, I know it certainly is.  I loved Life of Pi (which is why I looked into Martel's other books) but I love Beatrice & Virgil more. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anyone looking for an amazing read, must read Beatrice and Virgil. It is poignant, elegant, beautiful, engaging and horrific... all in one. The end is insightful and terrifying. An incredibly unique way to view the atrocities of The Holocaust.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KatrinaO More than 1 year ago
A story of a very strange taxidermist’s made up play of Beatrice and Virgil. A donkey (Beatrice) and howler monkey (Virgil) in search of truth and life in the midst of struggling for survival. Peculiar events occurred at the end of the 2 joint story tellers leaving me loving the book more for it. I also liked the Games for Gustav the best. :D Very well thought of.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yann Martel at his best
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