Words are cold, muddy toads trying to understand sprites dancing in a field.I have been left completely gobsmacked by this new book by Yann Martel. I don't even know what I can possibly say in a review to do it justice, or even how to describe how I feel about this book.
'Beatrice and Virgil' is the second major novel from Yann Martel, following his hugely successful 'Life of Pi' (which I thought was sensational). It draws its title from characters in Dante's 'Divine Comedy': Beatrice is Dante's guide through Heaven and Virgil is his guide through Hell and Purgatory. In this book Beatrice and Virgil are a donkey and monkey (respectively) in a play within the novel. Where to begin here? I just don't know. Once again Yann Martel has baffled the reader with fact and fiction. The main character in this novel, Henry, is a writer who has been unable to produce a second novel following his initial success (translated into several languages, won prizes, included several wild animals, sound familiar?) and has recently abandoned a work about the Holocaust. Years following this abandonment he receives a letter containing a short story, an excerpt from a play and a note requesting help. Upon seeking the author of this mysterious passage, Henry finds himself in a taxidermy shop run by an elderly man, also named Henry, and meets Beatrice and Virgil who have both been previously taxidermied (is that even a word?). From here Henry becomes embroiled in helping this man write his play.
This book is astoundingly beautifully written. All the excerpts of the play are divine, full of beautiful adjectives and metaphors, with existential musings that mirrors Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot'. This book is also multi-layered. While on the surface it is the story of a writer struggling for inspiration and a somewhat creepy old taxidermist with a donkey and a monkey, it really is about the Holocaust. Here again, Martel has blurred the lines of reality and fiction, a story about struggling to write about the Holocaust is, in fact, a story about the Holocaust. 'Beatrice and Virgil' is a fable, an allegory for one of the most horrific scenes of human history, simplified and at the same time complicated by the use of metaphor. And the truth is, because of this, it is the most moving and tragic story of the Holocaust I have ever read.
Beatrice and Virgil's friendship is made all the more beautiful by their differing of species. They genuinely love each other, desperately almost, they are all the other has in life. It is amazing how affectively their vulnerability is highlighted in this book, simply by not being human, and it makes the tragic and shocking end to this book so utterly devastating. Please don't think I'm giving things away here, this is the sort of book you get so caught up in you forget everything you have previously read.
Not a moment to be lost. Be happy right now. Be happy. I'm so happy with you, so very happy. Let us dance with our porcelain shoes. Everything will be all right.Though this book is barely 200 pages long it does become convoluted at times, and you wonder if things are necessary. Though while it lagged a bit in the middle and the allusions became increasingly less subtle as the book continued (to the point that they were often explained in case the reader missed them, cringe), the emotional affect this book had on me was immense. I will admit that it is not unusual for me to cry in a book. In fact it is more common for me to cry than not. I read very innocently. Like I said in my review for The Little Stranger I am completely gullibly sucked in to the plot of any well written book and therefore I think books like this have a maximum impact on me. I don't read cynically and I don't look for flaws (I lie, I picked Twilight to pieces) and therefore I am more likely to give a book such as this a far more glowing review than a somewhat more discerning reader. Despite this, I don't think this is a sit-on-the-fence book. You will either love it, or you will despise it. I am on Team Love. Thank you Yann Martel.
Please let me know if you have reviewed this, I would love to hear what you thought.
Amy's Book Obsession