Beatrice and Virgil

( 158 )

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 ...

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Beatrice and Virgil: A Novel

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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.
 

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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: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/13/2010
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 6.04 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Yann Martel

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.
 

Biography

Sometime in the early 1990s, Yann Martel stumbled across a critique in The New York Times Review of Books by John Updike that captured his curiosity. Although Updike's response to Moacyr Scliar's Max and the Cats was fairly icy and indifferent, the premise immediately intrigued Martel. According to Martel, Max and the Cats was, "as far as I can remember... about a zoo in Berlin run by a Jewish family. The year is 1933 and, not surprisingly, business is bad. The family decides to emigrate to Brazil. Alas, the ship sinks and one lone Jew ends up in a lifeboat with a black panther." Whether or not the story was as uninspiring as Updike had indicated in his review, Martel was both fascinated by this premise and frustrated that he had not come up with it himself.

Ironically, Martel's account of the plot of Max and the Cats wasn't completely accurate. In fact, in Scliar's novel, Max Schmidt did not belong to a family of zookeepers -- he was the son of furrier. Furthermore, he did not emigrate from Berlin to Brazil with his family as the result of a failing zoo, but was forced to flee Hamburg after his lover's husband sells him out to the Nazi secret police. So, this plot that so enthralled Martel -- which he did not pursue for several years because he assumed Moacyr Scliar had already tackled it -- was more his own than he had thought.

Meanwhile, Martel managed to write and publish two books: a collection of short stories titled The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios in 1993 and a novel about gender confusion called Self in 1996. Both books sold only moderately well, further frustrating the writer. In an effort to collect his thoughts and refresh his creativity, he took a trip to India, first spending time in bustling Bombay. However, the overcrowded city only furthered Martel's feelings of alienation and dissolution. He then decided to move on to Matheran, a section near Bombay but without that city's dense population. In this peaceful hill station overlooking the city, Martel began revisiting an idea he had not considered in some time, the premise he had unwittingly created when reading Updike's review in The New York Times Review of Books. He developed the idea even further away from Max and the Cats. While Scliar's novel was an extended holocaust allegory, Martel envisioned his story as a witty, whimsical, and mysterious meditation on zoology and theology. Unlike Max Schmidt, Pi Patel would, indeed, be the son of a zookeeper. Martel would, however, retain the shipwrecked-with-beasts theme from Max and the Cats. During an ocean exodus from India to Canada, the ship sinks and Pi finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with such unlikely shipmates as a zebra, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The resulting novel, Life of Pi, became the smash-hit for which Martel had been longing. Selling well over a million copies and receiving the accolades of Book Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, and, yes, The New York Times Review of Books, Life of Pi has been published in over 40 countries and territories, in over 30 languages. It is currently in production by Fox Studios with a script by master-of-whimsy Jean-Pierre Jeunet (City of Lost Children; Amélie) and directorial duties to be handled by Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mamá también; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).

Martel is now working on his third novel, a bizarrely allegorical adventure about a donkey and a monkey that travel through a fantastical world... on a shirt. Well, at least no one will ever accuse him of borrowing that premise from any other writer.

Good To Know

Life of Pi is not Yann Martel's first work to be adapted for the screen. His short story "Manners of Dying" was made into a motion picture by fellow Canadian resident Jeremy Peter Allen in 2004.

When he isn't penning modern masterpieces, Martel spends much of his time volunteering in a palliative care unit.

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

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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Reading Group Guide

1. What is Beatrice & Virgil about?
 
2. Why do you think Martel decided to name both of his characters “Henry”?
 
3. Discuss the characters of Beatrice and Virgil. Why might Martel have chosen them to be a donkey and a howler monkey, and why might he have chosen to name these characters after Dante’s guides through hell, purgatory, and heaven?
 
4. What do you think of Henry’s original idea for his book? Do you agree with him that the Holocaust needs to be remembered in different ways, beyond the confines of “historical realism”? Why, or why not?
 
5. How would you compare Beatrice & Virgil to Life of Pi? How do Yann Martel’s aims in the two novels differ, and how are they similar?
 
6. Close to the start of the book, Henry (the writer) says, “A book is a part of speech. At the heart of mine is an incredibly upsetting event that can survive only in dialogue” (p. 12). What does this mean? How does his comment inform the book we are reading?
 
7. Describe the role Flaubert’s story “The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator” plays in the novel.
 
8. How do you explain Henry’s wife’s reaction to the taxidermist and his workshop?
 
9. How do you feel about the play “A 20th-Century Shirt”? Could it be performed? What role does it play in the book?
 
10. What moral challenges does Beatrice & Virgil present the reader with? What does it leave you thinking about?
 
11. How is writing like or unlike taxidermy in the book?
 
12. What role do Erasmus and Mendelssohn play in the novel?
 
13. What is the significance of 68 Nowolipki Street?
 
14. How is Henry changed by the events of the novel? How does this relate to Beatrice and Virgil having “no reason to change” (p. 151) over the course of their play?
 
15. What would you put in your own sewing kit?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 158 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(38)

4 Star

(40)

3 Star

(35)

2 Star

(24)

1 Star

(21)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 158 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bravo! (I think)

    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?

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 14, 2010

    Difficult to describe. Unique.

    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).

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK

    As someone who LOVED the LIFE OF PI I was highest disappointed with this book. The first 170 pages of this book bored me to no end, but the last 27 pages angered and disgusted me. You went from having a pointless book with no plot to having a gruesome ending that didn't really tie in with the rest of the book. The LIFE OF PI left you wanting more to read. This book left you never wanting to read another book by YANN MARTEL ever again. The character in the book "Henry" is a writer and is told by his publisher that his story is about nothing and should never published. I wish someone had told YANN this before he published this book. Take you own advice Mr. Martel next time and stop writing if you don't have a story to tell.

    5 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Innocent at first, Beatrice and Virgil leaves a dark smudge on a seemingly white page. It's disturbing and odd and I have to say it.brilliant.

    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.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2010

    Disgusted

    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.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 27, 2010

    Avoid at all costs (Can I give it zero stars?)

    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.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Unclear at this Juncture!

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2011

    Powerful Book

    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!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2010

    Skip this one

    No where near the caliber of Life of Pi. I was disappointed

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2010

    A book to be read more than once

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    GONG!

    What a gong show! He means well - but writes poorly.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2010

    not good

    not good

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2010

    I cannot believe I paid for this!

    Based on other reviews, I kept waiting for this book to get better, however, it never happened for me. It seemed that I was waiting to find out if the book was about the life of the author, the taxidermist or the animals. The only thing I really took away from this book is that our society seems more outraged over the senseless killing of animals than it does the atrocities of war. Overall, the book left me feeling disgusted and angry. I would not recommend this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    Most moving book I have read in a long time

    I was incredibly moved by this latest offering from Yann Martel. I thought Life of Pi was such a unique story and was anxious to read Beatrice and Virgil. I was not disappointed. Beatrice and Virgil is very heart wrenching. Martel's books are always full of surprises so I will not give anything away. I read Beatrice and Virgil in a few hours, and was moved to tears by some parts (the first book I have ever read to make me cry), so I do not recommend this book if you are looking for something light-hearted. Martel's storytelling can be wordy at times, and you may think the story is going nowhere, but trust me, keep going. Martel is truly a genius when it comes to weaving stories. I cannot wait for his next literary endeavor.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2010

    He's a great writer

    This is a terrific book! Will definately be controversial, but that's okay. Part memoir? Wonderful how he weaves it together with an allegory involving the Holocaust. Martel uses a monkey and a donkey in portraying the awfulness of the event. There's a reason he's so popular; the man can write. Bravo!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    I adore this book. It is profound and inspiring, yet still clean

    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. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2013

    Intriguing and horrifying

    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.

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  • Posted September 11, 2013

    A story of a very strange taxidermist¿s made up play of Beatrice

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013

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    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    Powerful conclusion, but worth the read?

    Fortunately, it's a short book.
    The conclusion is moving and powerful, touching. But I found most of the book itself alternatingly boring ans frustrating. I suppose it is worth the read, at barely over 100 pages, but don't expect to be drawn to it until the end.

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