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Paperback Beatrice & Virgil Book

ISBN: 0307398781

ISBN13: 9780307398789

Beatrice & Virgil

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

Henry's second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name, had done well. Yann Martel's astonishing new novel begins with a successful writer attempting to publish his latest book, made up of a novel and an essay. Henry plans for it to be a "flip book" that the reader can start at either end, reading the novel or the essay first, because both pieces are equally concerned with representations of the Holocaust. His aim is to give the most horrifying...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

This book is breathtaking. It is light but still manages to be gut-wrenching brutal.

5 stars and one big question mark

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 the 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)

Stunning resolution makes you rethink what you've just read - I'm recommending this book to everyone

Brief summary and review, NO SPOILERS. I emphasis the no spoilers because I think to fully enjoy this book, it's best if you experience this it without knowing very much about it and find out events (and in essence what the book is about) when the author wants you to know. So in briefest summary, this is a book about a man named Henry who has written a very successful first novel. (Like the author himself, Yann Martel.) Henry writes a second book - a flip book that is half fiction, and half nonfiction. But Henry cannot seem to get that book published and we hear the reasons why with some very funny dialogue that also serves as a skewering of the publishing business in general. I think anyone who has ever written a book, or intends to do so will really get a kick out of this discussion. Henry becomes disillusioned and moves away some unnamed big city. While there, he still receives letters and notes from the public through his agent and publicist. Henry gets one letter one that contains a highlighted play supposedly by Flaubert, and part of a play written by the person who sent this missive. It piques Henry's curiosity and he makes contact with this mysterious sender, who turns out to be a taxidermist. And that's all I'm going to say about the plot. I loved this book, and I found it profoundly moving. I finished it at night and could not go to sleep. What's important to know is that once you start this book, you really need to finish it before you make any judgments about it. Martel brilliantly puts us a little off kilter and it is only when you are finished that you will rethink what you have just read and it all will make sense. I loved the beginning of the book, but started thinking it was a little too weird for me about midway through. But I had heard the ending was amazing and I read on. (It's a short book - under 200 pages.) And then I finished and I was a wreck. This was book gave me that wonderful reader's high, and I really wanted (needed) to talk about it with someone else. Highly recommended. The writing and style is reminiscent of the author's first book, The Life of Pi, but I think this is the better novel and I enjoyed it a lot more.

Fact Behind the Fiction

Yann Martel's bestselling "Life of Pi" is a stunning novel that raised questions about the very nature and the power of story as well as what humans believe about life in general. His latest novel, "Beatrice and Virgil" is similar in that it raises some very profound questions and uses two animals as main characters, but it travels a very different path than Martel's previous work. "Beatrice and Virgil" is a fast-paced read, one that does not always flow cohesively, but one that manages to discuss some very difficult issues in a new and unique manner. The tale begins with Henry, a novelist who has had great success anonymously, but whose latest book (a strange combination of fiction and essay about the Holocaust) has been rejected. Cue to this rejection, Henry ceases to write, pursuing a variety of other activities to fill his days. One day, he receives a letter from a fan, which contains a short story by Flaubert, a snippet of a play featuring the two title characters, and a cry for help. Henry is intrigued by the story and what he reads of the play, so he seeks out the author out of curiosity, not intending to offer any help. What Henry is not suspecting is that the author is a strange and somewhat creepy recluse of a taxidermist, and that the two characters of his play are a donkey and a howler monkey. Against his better judgment, Henry finds himself wrapped up with this man's creative writing block for he believes he sees parallels between his failed project and this man's strange and fascinating play. Yet the more Henry spends time with the taxidermist, the less he learns, until one day his life is changed irrevocably. "Beatrice and Virgil" is a fascinating mix of narrative and drama as Henry recreates the taxidermist's play. Martel is a gifted storyteller able to make the most implausible of situations seem real and enchanting. The story seems to wrap up a little too quickly, as if there were more Martel could have said, but the final segment is a fitting corollary to the questions that the author has already raised. While not as lyrical as "Life of Pi", "Beatrice and Virgil" is a unique fictional look at a historical event that should never be forgotten.

Holocaust in a suitcase

Coming in to this slight novel--barely more than a novella--all I knew was that it was Yann Martel's "Holocaust allegory," and that it had animal characters. Those animals are the eponymous Beatrice (a donkey) and Virgil (a howler monkey) but they're actually characters in a play within the novel. Let me back up... The central character of Beatrice and Virgil is a novelist named Henry. Henry has written a very successful book that featured animals as characters. Henry's career, in short, is remarkably similar to that of Yann Martel. The beginning of the novel describes his travails while attempting to publish a follow up to his very successful book. Henry, who is not Jewish, wants to write about the Holocaust. He has noticed that almost all Holocaust fiction is in the style of historical realism. Henry believes there are other ways to have this dialogue, to tell this story. "Other events in history, including horrifying ones, had been treated by artists. 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 non-literal and compact way. The unwieldy encumbrance of history was packed into a suitcase. Art as suitcase, light, portable and essential--was such a treatment not possible, indeed, was it not necessary, with the greatest tragedy of Europe's Jews?" It is this that Henry attempts, but fails, to write. Despite his exalted stature, he is told repeatedly that his book is unpublishable. At this point, sick of publishing and completely blocked, Henry decides to pursue other interests. He and his wife move to an unnamed major city in another county. He takes music lessons, acts in plays, and even waits on customers in a chocolatería. He's happy. And it's a pleasure to read about Henry. Sure, he's rich, talented, and free, but at heart he's an everyman and so darn likable. Eventually, a series of events leads Henry to an acquaintance with a taxidermist, also coincidentally (?) named Henry. In most ways Henry the taxidermist is completely unlike Henry the novelist. He's older, dour, and very, very serious. But he, too, is a frustrated writer. He has been struggling for years on a play about Beatrice and Virgil. The characters are real in his mind, as they are literally two stuffed animals in his shop. Gradually Henry the novelist begins collaborating on the play, and sections of the play's text make up large portions of the novel. And the text is... well, I swear it sounds like Samuel Beckett wrote it. Beatrice and Virgil may as well have been renamed Vladimir and Estragon. Truly, if you have any appreciation of that sort of thing, it's an absolute joy to read. And that's the thing: This light, short novel is a compelling and deceptively simple read. Other than novelist Henry's unpublished work, there's no further talk of the Hol

A novel examination of the horrors of the Holocaust

`Beatrice and Virgil' is a hard novel to describe for the very reasons that Martel himself states in the book - it explores the Holocaust in a new and unusual way. Most accepted literature about the Holocaust is based on true History: memoirs by survivors, diaries of the victims and, even when fiction tackles the topic, it sticks with historical facts. "Beatrice and Virgil" begins with Henry, our protagonist, and his attempt to bring to publication his next great novel. Having achieved fame with a novel that used animals to tell an allegorical tale, Henry now wants to turn his attention to the Holocaust. However, his attempt to write about it in a new way, is torn apart by his publishers and he retreats from writing in general. Then Henry gets a letter from another `Henry', who sends him a fairly barbaric story by Flaubert (available at and a request/demand for help. The sender is a reclusive taxidermist who is writing a play that does what Henry had wanted to do with his story - represent the Holocaust allegorically in a story about animals - reminiscent of how Animal Farm depicted Communism. With the success of `Life of Pi' Martel must have been very aware that his second novel would be judged in comparison to his first one. However, while the use of animals is the same this novel is quite different. The first half is an examination of Art and Henry's philosophy about writing. Once Henry meets the taxidermist the story moves over into a more Pi-like atmosphere where the reader knows that there is more going on than what is written on the page. There are very obvious parallels between Henry and the author - both are Canadian, both have become famous with books about animals as characters and both have children named Theo!! There are many more for the reader to find. I would say that this book is about assumptions and the interpretations of silence, or of the inability to speak of what is unspeakable. The taxidermist does not communicate well in his conversations with Henry. It is only from his writing and Flaubert's essay that Henry decides that the man is fascinated with violence - he is writing about murder, he is interested in the sheer number of animals murdered in Flaubert's story, he writes that he became a taxidermist to see if something could be saved once it had been killed - to bear witness. At the end of the book, Henry makes a huge assumption about who the taxidermist actually is and there is certainly enough of a shock to make the reader return to the earlier pages to search for clues. There is no pat ending and, in that too, the book does resemble `Life of Pi.' You won't find gas chambers and crematoria in these pages but you will find fear and violence and the unfathomable hatred that one group can have for another.It is a harrowing read but, in the end, a successful allegorical representation of the Holocaust and its impact on people, even 60 years after the fact.
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