Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Beatrice and Virgil

Rate this book
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.

224 pages, Paperback

First published April 13, 2010

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Yann Martel

57 books4,696 followers
Yann Martel is the author of Life of Pi, the #1 international bestseller and winner of the 2002 Man Booker (among many other prizes). He is also the award-winning author of The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (winner of the Journey Prize), Self, Beatrice & Virgil, and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. Born in Spain in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs—tree planter, dishwasher, security guard—and traveled widely before turning to writing. He lives in Saskatoon, Canada, with the writer Alice Kuipers and their four children.

Become a fan of Yann on Facebook.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3,200 (15%)
4 stars
5,441 (25%)
3 stars
6,432 (30%)
2 stars
3,801 (18%)
1 star
2,187 (10%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,250 reviews
Profile Image for Melinda.
114 reviews15 followers
March 15, 2011
I literally just finished Yann Martel's new book Beatrice and Virgil (B&V for brevity's sake) about 10 minutes ago. I am shaken with rage as the book is one of the most hateful and ghastly jumble of horrors I have ever finished. At least it is mercifully short. In fact, it is so short, it can hardly be called more than just a long short story. The main story clocks in under 200 pages, there is tons of white space and the last 8 pages are "games" that feel lifted from works about the Holocaust ranging from Roman Polanski's The Pianist to Sophie's Choice.

I read Life of Pi when it first came out and then again last week. It will always stand as one of the best books of my reading life.

Beatrice and Virgil is a jumble: a writer who's book has just been rejected, a play that is occasionally exquisitely written that vibrates with beauty and life, a coming-to-terms with the Holocaust, the revealing of a Nazi war criminal who somehow escaped detection who is allowed to live a silent life of peace, a hungry donkey and the scream of a Howler monkey.

But what does it mean? I don't know. I think Mr. Martel had terrible writer's block after Pi (the dreaded curse of the sophomore book, even though Pi is really his second novel) and he wants to write about the Holocaust in a new way. But he overreaches. And the book references waaaay too many other works of literature. Many are mentioned by other reviewers, and even Mr. Martel quotes a story by Flaubert in long sentences, so it is hard to really even hear Martel's own voice. B&V reminds me so much of Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers in that it is so short, has a bloody graphic ending that comes out of nowhere and takes place in an anonymous European city.

When it does shine through it is lovely, especially early in the book (read the 3 page description of a pear) during the play that comes to him in bits and pieces by a struggling writer (also with writer's block) clothed as a taxidermist. Both protagonists are named Henry, but usually the elder taxidermist is simply called "the taxidermist". His wife is immediately repulsed by him, the waiters down the street treat him like a leper and he gives everyone except Henry extreme cases of the willies. Henry sees brilliance in the taxidermist's play and wants to shepherd it. But the terse, oblique, removed and socially awkward taxidermist is afraid that Henry will steal his material... and as a reader, the deeper we got into the play, the less I wanted to see it.

In Pi we are caught up in moments of graphic animal violence, but it makes sense within that story and is balanced out by deep insights into spirituality. In B&V the graphic animal violence does nothing to serve the story, except to try to give a new voice to the Holocaust and it simply doesn't work. I don't want or need Martel to write a Pi sequel. But this book is so abstract and cluttered with images that it feels like Martel cut up a bunch of better books on the subject, threw the pieces up in the air, gathered them up in random order, added a hungry donkey and a monkey who howls and barfed them out in novella form. In the end, B&V was gigantic disappointment for me.

Maybe I should try to digest the book before immediately reviewing it, but I need a shower because it made me feel dirty. 0/5 stars.

UPDATE: This review has generated a lot of comments and I have actually bonded with some members of GoodReads over this review. (you know who you are). As you may tell from my statements, I was horribly disappointed with this book. But I finished it weeks ago and I saw Yann Martel speak on 4/18. I just want to put this entire episode out of my mind forever. I had pre-purchased 2 copies: one for me to have signed by the author I so admired to keep forever and one to sell in a few years if (hopefully~~at the time) it won a few awards. I have made book investments like that before and they have paid off. I had a leather bound re-issue of Bluebeard by Vonnegut that was signed and 3 weeks after his death I got $300 for it. I have some first edition Philip Roth (signed) books and a few others.. Because I despised B&V SO much I actually took the books back, even though I had read one of them. It took me less than 2 days to read it and I took the dust jacket off and handled it with such care that it could have be re-sold as totally new. I feel Karma nipping at my heels, because I have NEVER in my life taken back a book that I actually read and requested my money back. I don't like the way it feels and I have to live with that in my mind (and now out on GoodReads) forever. And my "investment" is also gone

I lately found out that I can give a book ZERO out of 5 stars, so I changed my review to reflect that. Art is so subjective: some people will look at a John Crapper toilet at the Smithsonian and say "ART" and others will say "GARBAGE" and they are BOTH right! What is the effing point of getting into an argument how someone feels about a book? Is this not why sites like this exist! They exist SO THAT PEOPLE CAN GIVE THEIR OPINIONS!!!!!! Not to fight!. So... with the exception of Douglass (who I sent a private message to contact me outside of this discussion) (Please contact me!) I have to divorce myself from this particular thread. I'm exhausted from being attacked, sucked back in, being asked questions I cannot answer and mostly, having to think about this horrible mess of a "book" again and again and again.

NEW UPDATE! I just found out that you cannot give "zero stars"..GR counts it as unrated. Even though I still despise this book, I'll give it one star, but only under protest!!!!
Profile Image for Rita.
528 reviews14 followers
April 23, 2010
It's hard to review this book. I loved the first part so much, the simplicity and innocence of it. It was so seemingly transparent and human and honest. Then it turned... it didn't become something else, it revealed what it had been all along.

I've read reviews with people saying they felt manipulated, conned, tricked. They are expressing anger over the book and the way it approached the subject and who it was approached by (Who is HE to be writing so offensively about the Holocaust?).

The symbolism in the book is too loud and too abundant to make any real sense of. I first thought to describe it as walking around in a dry, dusty, overly warm shop with too many odd and confusing things on display for a mind to process, but every time you turn to collect your thoughts to try to analyze one symbol, you can't help but have another already in your face. I disregarded that image because I found I was describing the taxidermy shop and didn't want to be using one symbol to describe the way his symbolism was to the senses.

Then I thought of it as someone singing in an echo chamber. They keep singing even though the song is just echoing all around, so you can't hear the words or follow the melody since it keeps reverberating back at you again and again, changing the song into something unbearable. But, that reminded me too much of the noise of the howler monkey, Virgil.

In the end, I decided to not try to decipher the symbolism, to describe it at all. I will just go ahead and describe how I felt after reading this book, whether it's what Martel intended or not.

I felt traumatized. The book was a traumatizing experience. I think that's why so many people reacted with such anger. It was a hurtful, manipulating, offensive book. But, given the context... and the forewarning... I think that's what it was supposed to be. It was, as I see it anyway, the flip book that Henry tried to get published. The first part was "the essay," with the author setting his premise and the second part was the book of fiction, going at the topic from a different way. And again, I don't know whether this was Martel's intention, but for me, feeling overwhelmed and confused and overall traumatized is what someone should feel after reading about the Holocaust. The book evoked the emotion of it, created the residue of the aftermath (one critic said she needed a shower after reading it because she felt dirty), the trembling feeling of powerlessness. It did an excellent job of making its reader feel victimized, giving readers a hint of the idea of what it's like, so that it won't be forgotten.

The symbolism in the book is too hard to pick apart piece by piece. There's just too much of it and it overlaps and interwinds and is just another layer of being assaulted in itself. But, there were two things that really stood out for me as I was reading.

First off, the fact that Henry the Taxidermist would never let Henry the author read the play himself, but rather read it aloud to him. The first time he did this, I bristled. I cannot stand for someone to ask my opinion of something and then read it to me. I have to read the words with my own eyes. This continued throughout the book, with Henry the author finally commenting, "To read on one's own and to be read to are two very different experiences. Not being in control of the words submitted to his attention, unable to establish his own pace but rather dangling along like a prisoner in a chain gang, he found that his level of attention and retention had varied."

The issue of control here, and mentioned again in the scene at the cafe, when Henry the Taxidermist reads aloud to Henry the author again, causing him to think, "Even here, in public, he was going to read aloud. What a control freak."

It lets us know that we're not in control here. The suffocating, prickly feeling of things spinning away from us should have started up, the survival senses alerting us that we're in a trap here, followed up immediately with my favorite observation of the whole book:

"'You don't like people, do you?' Henry said, which he meant lightly.

The taxidermist looked at the passerby for another moment, then turned his gaze onto Henry--and it was a pinpoint of concentration wholly focussed on him, animal-like in its intensity, exactly that, animal-like. As the taxidermist bore into him with his steady eyes, a single thought occurred to Henry: I am people."

It wasn't a fun read. It was traumatizing. I wasn't offended by someone not personally touched by the Holocaust writing the book, as some other people were. I felt it appropriate in what he was saying--that it affected all of us and will continue to touch us and hurt all of us forever, you can't be removed from it by time and proximity, it's something that each of us carries with us because we're human and share the history of being human.

At least, that's what I got out of it.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,218 reviews1,962 followers
June 23, 2023
I disliked Life of Pi, but I thought, well let's give this one a try; it can't be worse. To be fair, it probably wasn't, but it was no better.
I think most available literary devices were used and you can have great fun spotting the various references to other works; many are blindingly obvious, others less so.
In brief, the two main protagonists are both called Henry; one is an author with writer's block and the other an aging taxidermist, usually refered to as the taxidermist. The taxidermist sends Henry part of a play he is writing and the two spend time together going through the taxidermist's writing and his craft. Everyone else seems to hate the taxidermist, even Henry's wife (Henry is clearly not a good judge of character) and it eventually transpires the taxidermist is a Nazi war criminal.
This is an attempt at looking at the holocaust using animals as characters. Beatrice and Virgil of the title are a Donkey and a Howler Monkey (both stuffed). Perhaps it should add up to something profound, but it's all such a dislocated jumble. There is a short story by Flaubert heavily featured about Julian the Hospitaller, which describes the mass slaughter of animals. The play which is central to the book involving Beatrice and Virgil (I'm ignoring Dante) is basically Waiting for Godot. There is a spot of Proust in there. However the one image I kept getting, especially towards the end was from the film Marathon Man where a creepy Lawrence Olivier is asking Dustin Hoffman "Is it safe?" whilst flourishing a dental drill.
Most of the violence is principally towards animals and seemed pointless; the torture scene with the donkey ( I almost felt I was moving genres at that point into a whole new perverted world) was rather too well thought out and imaginative.
What really irritated me were the cards at the end with the "profound" questions on them. Examples being; your family is starving, your young son says he knows where he can get potatoes. To do this will place him in grave danger; do you let him go? Alternatively, your whole family is about to be taken into the gas chamber and your young daughter asks what is happening; do you tell her? And so it goes on. There is even a blank one at the end for you to make your own up. I was so tempted! This sort of device was, I recall, greatly used in counselling courses and motivational training. I remember participating in a few of these in the 80s when we would be sat in groups and given one of these questions to discuss. My mate and I would look at each other with a glance that said; "Time for the pub".
This has turned from review to rant and I haven't even mentioned the horrific fate of Henry the author's pets! Sorry too much violence,even though I know it's symbolic; the point was lost for me
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
April 27, 2010
My first reaction was a howl, a braying if you will, into the vastness. Martel does not allow us to look away. He puts his everyman in charge of his own story, and it is not a pretty sight. Echoing great voices in literature through the centuries, Martel chooses elements from many to create a symbolically dense, but figuratively simple narrative in which a taxidermist lovingly recreates the beauty once inherent in animals now long dead. Killed...nay, massacred, defaced, defiled, tortured, and humiliated...but killed, make no mistake, by everyman. The simple language, the brave humor, the loving touch, and gentle conversation between two doomed creatures who have seen much and suffered more elicits a moan of pain, sadness, and regret.

It takes a brave man to take on the big questions. Martel clearly studied the greats--those classic works of literature, art, and music handed down through the centuries--to see what links them to us now. Dante's Divine Comedy shows us man, much as he is this very day--no better, no worse. Beckett's deceptively simple dialog in Waiting for Godot , Shakespeare's complexities in Hamlet , Proust's sensual descriptions in Swann's Way are all reflected, refracted through Martel's lens. He primes us with the bright, fractured landscapes of Chagall, and the heart-stopping chords of Mozart, and onward he leads us "clueless Hamlets" to view with him the world we lived in, live in now, a world we create anew each day.

"Trivial" is not a word I would use to describe this book. "Anguished" is more the word I would choose. That animals speak for us, with us, to us makes us search anew for meaning. That the "Horrors" stands in for the "Holocaust", makes neither less potent. That man is as he is, is no less clear. And you, fair critic. Dare you walk in the footsteps of the greats? Dare you take on the challenge of making art, not war? Show us your colors.
Later now, I find myself still plumbing the depths of this horror. In describing it to a friend, I call it puzzling and disturbing, and that it does not really succeed as a straightforward story. One always has a brooding sense of doom, and of something much darker meant by an otherwise ordinary reference. Why does he choose a two-fingered hand jesture for his sewing kit list? Why does Virgil have a soliloquy of just one long sentence? What is the meaning of his [sic:] onelongword: evilivingroomanerroneously? Why? Why? Why?
Profile Image for Mark.
297 reviews7 followers
August 31, 2016
I think this book now holds the dubious honor of the worst book I have ever finished. It's derivative, dull & pretentious. The story within the story-a play featuring Beatrice and Virgil, a monkey and donkey walking across a striped shirt-is a cheap ripoff of Waiting for Godot. There are other plot points involving the narrator Henry's pets that seem to come from nowhere and lead nowhere. Finally, the book ends with a series of philosophical questions that strive to be profound, but remind me of nothing more than Homer Simpson's musing on whether Jesus could microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it.

I loved Life of Pi, but I can't imagine ever reading Yann Martel again after this.
Profile Image for Robin.
28 reviews1 follower
November 11, 2012
What's wrong with it? All the literary devices are stale (the play
within a novel, the big chunks copied out of a story by Flaubert that
is equally uninterestingly presented, the post-modernist writer
writing about a writer who is himself, the tedious Holocaust
allegorical back story is not even mildly interesting or mysterious,
the talking animals, the waiting for godot thing [it's been done, we
hear:]...yuck.) None of the characters are interesting. There is no
plot, really, which is OK (that can be an interesting modernist
technique), but there is nothing else to replace it -- there is no
substance that makes you want to sit up and think. The reader cannot
but feel he is being scammed, that there must be something deeper to
this story that is hidden beneath the surface. There isn't.

To be fair, I liked that last ten pages, the snappy ending. Martel should have cut it back and left it a short story.
Profile Image for Kristijan.
216 reviews66 followers
January 11, 2014
"Kako ćemo, jednog dana kada sve ovo bude gotovo, pričati o onome što nam se desilo?"
Potresen sam i uznemiren ovim romanom.
Knjigu bih mogao da svrstam među top 10 najboljih i u isti mah da je uklonim iz sopstvene biblioteke kako je nikada više ne bih čitao...
Čini mi se da će me ovo malo remek-delo dugo proganjati...
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,221 reviews2,213 followers
April 23, 2010
You know those people who get put off by a book sheerly because of how popular it is and get it in their head that it sounds boring (the blurb gave it a self-help-fiction-ish tinge* and I loathe self-help) and is bound to be mainstream 'cause so many people are reading it? Yeah I'm one of those. I saw people everywhere reading Life of Pi for a couple of years before I caved and read it - and, I have to use a cliché here, I was "blown away" by how fantastic it was. If you haven't read it, I hope you do. Don't read any reviews or get any opinions first, just read it.

Since the Life of Pi mania (good on 'im too, Canadian author and all!), we've all been eagerly anticipating his next book. Martel felt it too. He takes an ironic poke at our expectations and his possible failings as an author at the very beginning of Beatrice & Virgil, which starts off with a writer, Henry (no doubt loosely based on Martel himself), who after phenomenal success with his first novel takes five years to write a second, about the Holocaust, only to have his publishers knock it down flat.

With his wife Susan, a nurse, they pack up and move to another city. Henry doesn't try write a new book but picks up a job in a chocolate café and joins an amateur theatre group. But he still receives fan mail from all over the world, and one letter changes everything.

It's a letter from a man also called Henry - or rather, it's not a letter but a photocopy of an old Flaubert short story called "The Legend of Saint-Julian the Hospitaller"** and a scene from a play in which two characters, called Beatrice and Virgil, discuss the beauty and magnificence of a pear. A hand-written note is included, simply asking for Henry's help.

Henry is perplexed, unsure what the two manuscripts have in common or what kind of help he's being asked for, though he assumes it's the writerly kind. Coincidentally, the address is only a few streets away, so Henry decides to walk his perfunctory reply over. It turns out to be a taxidermy, full of incredible stuffed animals and animal skulls. The taxidermist is a highly unusual man and quite alienating; inspired by a stuffed donkey and the stuffed howler monkey that sits on her back, his characters are a donkey and a monkey. The two animals live on a shirt - a striped shirt - and talk about what to do next.

As Beatrice and Virgil's story reveals itself piecemeal, Henry gets closer and closer to the truth about the taxidermist. It's a truth that will quietly explode in his face and change him forever.

This is most likely not the story you would have expected, or at least its tone and style is not. When I started it, I had no idea where it was going and so let myself drift on its words, taken where it willed. This usually pays off, and it did here too. This is a book you don't want to overthink, but let quietly stew in your mind for a bit, and just feel. If you try to stop thinking as you read, you'll find the story can live and breathe in your head and take you to a deep dark place. If nothing else, Martel is a delightfully subtle and absorbing writer.

It's written in a style I don't know the word for: heavily third-person, very omniscient but sharing only what it wants to, giving us only one perspective (Henry's) and a strangely limited one at that, yet revealing much. It's very "narrative", almost like there's a voice-over narrator, as in movies like Stranger Than Fiction. Like this:

One day he saw a sign posted in a window: HELP WANTED. On impulse, he inquired. Henry didn't need a job, in fact he couldn't work legally, but he liked the people at The Chocolate Road and he admired their principles. He applied, they were intrigued, they agreed that he would be paid in shares, and, lo, Henry became a small shareholder in a chocolate concern and a part-time waiter and general helper. (pp.25-6)

This calm, studied style is intercepted by excerpts - bits of the short story, scenes from the taxidermists' play, and Games for Gustav, at the end. It's not just the style, the voice, that makes this novel truly unique (I could never get it muddled in my head with any other story), but the characters too.

Beatrice, the donkey, and Virgil, the howler monkey, are two characters you won't be able to forget in a hurry. I finished this book nearly a week ago and they're still alive and fresh in my head. Considering how lacklustre Henry is, and how unpersonable the taxidermist is, Beatrice and Virgil really are the main characters here. It's interesting, how they serve two purposes. The taxidermist, whose past I won't reveal for it would spoil the story, is writing his play ostensibly to draw attention to needless animal cruelty, to the destruction of their natural habitats, their homelessness. Their entire situation is an allegory for something else, and yet even if it weren't, it's still highly relevant. That struck me quite a bit, actually. The parallels, the way we treat animals - the way we treat humans like we treat animals.

There was much here that I admired, that deeply impressed me, not to mention the tragic story of Beatrice and Virgil and how towards the end it made me cry. But I confess, I didn't love it as much as I did his previous book. It's not that it's largely uneventful. It might not be action-packed or highly dramatic; I don't care for that. I think it comes down to the style it's written in. Even though it fits the story perfectly - I don't know that it could have been written any other way and still have the same impact - it's not a style that sits comfortably with me. Even while I'm drawn into the story, there's a part of me that's sitting outside of it, cold and alone and pushed away.

I guess, when it comes down to it, writing being an art form, there's some pain in good art. Good art should make you at least a bit uncomfortable, because if it is, it will make you think. It's also a very clever book, without being at all pretentious or slick. The apparent simplicity of the narrative voice gives it humility, but it's not an easy style to master. If nothing else, Martel has proven he can really write.
That's not what I think of though. I think of Beatrice and Vigril and their homelessness, their list, their love for each other, their sacrifices. And I bleed just a little bit for them, for all of them.


* I get the same "tinge" from books like Five People You Meet in Heaven and Eat Pray Love . It's probably unjustified but they seem to me to be books that are meant to be uplifting and all that. Self-indulgent, I say. Ugh. You'll never see me reading them. Yes, I know, but I draw the line somewhere!

** You can read it for free online here
Profile Image for Barbara Figlewicz.
74 reviews3 followers
June 24, 2012
I can't believe this story only got 3 stars in the cumulative rating. I know I love Yann Martel, and I personally relate to this book, but I thought it was written brilliantly - and I mean BRILLIANTLY!!!

It's a very tough book to read. I felt like I had experienced something close to the pain of the Holocaust when I finished it. It tore up my insides and made me bleed. I still can't think of it without feeling angst and sorrow in my heart.

It's confusing, but in a good way. I think readers SHOULD be challenged, and I was. I could not put it down. When references were made to specific "clues" about events in the Holocaust, I felt compelled to go to the internet and look them up to decipher the puzzle of the book. I still cant figure out a bunch of it, and I'd love to discuss it with someone, but I'm afraid people will "think I'm nuts" to do that because of the brutality of some of the book...but that's what the Holocaust was about, right?

This is the ultimate journey into hell for sure. In fact, that's another thing I had to research... Only after I started to read did I "get" that Beatrice and Virgil had something to do with Dante's Inferno,as I have not read that. One of my friends did a study on The Inferno, so I had to check into that to understand this book better.

When innocence is so shattered and when an author can make you feel that particular horror (of the Holocaust) in such a crafted way, it becomes even more intense and physically hurts. You may ask, why would we want to read something if it makes us hurt? I don't have the answer, but I want to cry yet again as I think of this book.

At the start of the book, Yann Martel takes on his own character, describing the life of an author (of Life of Pi, which he is) and tells about how he receives accolades and letters from grateful readers. He tells us how he responds to these compliments by sending little printed cards to his admirers, and sends hand-written greetings and thanks to his readers. Imagine my astonishment when reading this in Beatrice and Virgil, because I WAS THE RECIPIENT OF ONE OF HIS CARDS/LETTERS!! After I read Life of Pi (written by him), I designed my classroom in Indian Temple fashion, patterned on the story of Piscine Molitor, "Pi" in his story. My students wrote letters and designed pictures which we bound in a book and sent to Mr. Martel in Canada. About 9 months later, I received this little card from him with a hand written note inside. It is one of my most treasured possessions. Imagine my surprise to read the opening of this book and find myself reading about myself, in a fashion.

Another strange coincidence came at the time of my reading this book. I had just read Stirred by Blake Crouch & Joe Konrath (my former student) and in this book the main character, Jacqueline (Jack) Daniels, a gritty Chicago detective, is sent through her nemesis's (Luther's) 9 Circles of Hell. It was just so weird to just fall into these Inferno "holes" all at the same time.

Seriously, this book was horrifying, yet excellent. If anyone reads it, let me know - we can talk. Why do they live on a shirt??
Profile Image for Julie.
2,013 reviews38 followers
March 6, 2021
Well, that was very different. At the beginning, Yann Martel discusses the lack of fiction writing about the Holocaust, which I hadn't really thought about before and introduces the theme of the book.

There were times when I truly leaned in and enjoyed the descriptive writing and other times when I felt repelled. For example, the passage where Virgil describes what a pear is and how it tastes was delightful.

Then, the passages where the taxidermist describes his work were hard to listen to and the descriptions of cruelty worse still. However, if I think of this as a work of Holocaust fiction, then its inclusion is necessary.

As Martel writes, "If history doesn't become story it dies to everyone but the historian." Perhaps this is Martel's most persuasive argument for Holocaust fiction. May we never forget.

Favorite passages:

"Fiction being closer to the fuller experience of life should take precedence over non-fiction. Stories, individual stories, family stories, national stories are what stitch together the disparate elements of human existence into a coherent whole."

"Fiction and non-fiction are not so easily divided. Fiction may not be real but it's true. It goes beyond the garland of facts to get to emotional and psychological truths."

"on the streets of San José he learned the outer form of Spanish, its color, but not the canvas that supported it."

"A story is life that makes sense."
Profile Image for Stephanie.
41 reviews5 followers
March 12, 2011
This book snuck up on me.

I adore Life of Pi and was prepared for something along those lines, and while the writing style and voice are just alike, this book is totally different. I was not sure what this book was while I was reading it... it is discordant and has some concepts in it that dont seem to fit with others, there isnt an easy flow to the story and I can see why some people would be put off by it.

What I will say about this book is that it is like a good poem, and I think that is the point. It is meant to make you feel something that cannot be spoken directly about. It is communicating a feeling about something anyone who was not there can never truly know. At the end of the book when I was ready for the book to be over because I was a bit annoyed by the whole thing, suddenly it came home to me and I started crying in an airplane - in public. I hid my tears and put the book down and said "wow". You will either get the message of this book or not, but either way it is masterfully written and worth a try.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,589 followers
April 14, 2015
What are the ethical and moral quandaries of depicting the Holocaust with anything but straight facts? That’s at the heart of Yann Martel’s Beatrice & Virgil, his disappointing follow-up to his prize-winning, bestselling Life Of Pi.

Henry is a Martel-like figure who’s temporarily given up writing in despair after his follow-up to his prize-winning, bestselling novel is misunderstood and rejected by publishers.

Living off the royalties of that earlier book with his pregnant wife, Sarah, he moves to an unnamed city, takes music lessons, joins an amateur theatre company and works in a café. Then he meets one of his book’s fans, a mysterious taxidermist (coincidentally also named Henry) who needs help finishing a play featuring a donkey and a monkey named Beatrice and Virgil.

The book is filled with snatches of dialogue and scenes from the taxidermist’s Beckett-like play as well as Henry’s descriptions of their odd encounters. Some of the most vivid sequences concern taxidermy, which becomes a metaphor for the role of the artist and, as the book progresses, something more sinister.

The brief novel isn’t terribly written, and there are some thoughtful ideas about employing animals in fiction, as well as an effective section about how to describe a pear if you haven’t seen one.

But some of the book’s symbols feel overdone, its postmodern tricks self-indulgent and evasive. Worse, the sections on the Holocaust bring to mind other, more deeply felt, narratives.

And the portentous allusion to Dante in the title is simply overwrought and unearned for such a slight, slim book.

Profile Image for Dianah.
591 reviews47 followers
July 14, 2010
Wow - 9 years was certainly worth the wait!

Henry L'Hote is a wildly successful novelist who is thwarted in his desire to publish his next novel. While taking a break from writing, he receives a mysterious package from a fan who sends part of a story, part of a play and a note asking for his help. What follows could only happen in a Yann Martel novel. He makes the surreal and impossible seems normal and routine.

After much contemplation, Henry goes to meet the fan and is perplexed by the strange manner of Henry, the taxidermist, who is writing a play and presumably needs the author's help to finish it. A strange and unsettling relationship develops between the two, from which the author is somehow unable to disengage.

The taxidermist has written a play about Beatrice, a donkey, and Virgil, a howler monkey, both of which are fully anthropomorphized. The animals are running away, and as their story unfolds, the author begins to guess at its underlying meaning. While the author slowly comes to love the animal characters, he becomes more and more uncomfortable with the taxidermist.

A unique and surprising story, Beatrice and Virgil will completely draw you in. Be warned, though; parts of this novel are as dark as anything I've ever read. A torture scene is entirely harrowing and altogether too real.

This latest offering from Martel is a perfect allegory which unfolds effortlessly, and is a rare treat: completely entertaining and yet deeply, profoundly, intensely meaningful. Fantastic!
Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,176 followers
March 13, 2018
To be honest: I do not know what to think about this book, I have very conflicting feelings about it. On the one hand it contains beautiful passages: especially the dialogues between Beatrice and Virgil are sometimes unparalleled, and even more so when they appear to be metaphorical and even concealing and therapeutic; the final with the 13 games is also poignant, especially because of the throat-grabbing pertinence with which the Holocaust is made concrete.

But then there is the construction of the whole book: a writer with writer's block ends up with a rather unfriendly person who runs a shop of stuffed animals (where the donkey Beatrice and the howler Virgil stand), is initiated into the world of taxidermy (setting up animals) and in the meantime gets fragments read aloud from the dialogue between Beatrice and Virgil; this is a theatre piece written by the taxidermist. The link with the Holocaust becomes clear only very gradually.

The whole construction made a very forced impression when I read it, and afterwards I continue to struggle with it. It is clear to me that Yann wanted to explore the theme of the Holocaust in an original way, just as the Hungarian Nobel laureate Kertesz did (there is an indirect reference to him in the book). But at the same time he stuffed his book with literary references – mostly implicitly - giving the book a hyper-intellectual flavor. The reference to Dante is very clear (but then only to the 1st part of the Divina Comedia; has Yann also read the unparalleled parts 2 and 3?), and in the theatre fragments Beckett jumps from almost every page and also Camus subtly is discussed; and then I mention only the most obvious ones. All too flashy, if you ask me. And then there is the outcome of the story (the passages just before the 13 games): what a cliché!

Yann has succeeded in writing an ingenious and poignant book, but also an annoying and sometimes rather whining book. It is clear that it does not leave you indifferent and maybe that's why it's worth trying. But for me, if I let my gut feeling speak: no, "The Life of Pi" deserved a better successor!
13 reviews1 follower
September 6, 2011
My eleven-year-old son read this book, because he loved Life of Pi better than anything else he ever read. (Me? I felt completely betrayed by Life of Pi's ending.) He kept saying to me, "You need to read this and tell me what you think."

Wow. This is a powerful tiny novella, rich in symbolism and packing a huge emotional wallop. Although I'm normally the first person to be turned off by postmodern self-referentiality, it didn't bother me here. Martel's narrator is transparently a stand-in for himself. This story, about a taxidermist who grows more and more menacing, his play about two animals, and the narrator's growing investment in the play, all swirl together in a horrible yet totally compelling way at the end.

The story is ultimately about suffering and how we try to find language for it, and ultimately fail. And no, I probably would not have chosen to read a book with that theme. But the book is so resonant and powerful. I'm trying to figure out how to talk to my son about it. Please do read Beatrice and Virgil. It will only take you a few hours. The last hour of reading needs to be uninterrupted and alone, and then you should go for a long solitary walk.
Profile Image for marymurtz.
218 reviews
January 1, 2012

I finished this book in less than a day - I could not stop reading it. Yann Martel is one of the most brilliant writers and ever since I read (and was haunted by) Life of Pi, I've been looking forward to reading his next novel.

A Booklist reviewer called this book "a fable-type story with iceberg-deep dimensions reaching far below the surface of its general premise."

A young author named Henry L'Hote wrote a hugely successful book, but his second novel, eagerly awaited, is pitched to the publishers as a combination of fiction and essays thematically linked to the Holocaust, but presented in a different way than traditionally done. His publishers are appalled that Henry would place such a "sacred cow" of a theme in any setting other than WWII or its time. They tell him the manuscript is unacceptable.

So shaken by their review, Henry abandons his book. In fact, he abandons writing altogether. He and his wife move from Canada to an unnamed great city of the world, and Henry gets a job in a chocolate shop and takes up hobbies in community theater and music.

One day, Henry receives an envelope from someone who has read his book - it's not unusual as fan mail for his first novel continues to arrive years after the book's release.

This envelope contains a short story by Flaubert, as well as part of an unfinished play about a monkey and a donkey (Virgil and Beatrice), along with a terse note telling Henry "I need your help."

The sender turns out to be an eccentric taxidermist, whose personality is as enigmatic as his stuffed creatures are haunting. In helping the taxidermist with his play, Henry becomes attached to the fates of Beatrice and Virgil, but increasingly unsettled by the taxidermist. Ultimately, he has to face a nightmarish discovery about the man who is writing the play, his subject matter, and its origins.

Well, when the description of this book came out, I was skeptical. A monkey named Virgil and a donkey named Beatrice? It seemed preposterous and I shuffled it to the bottom of my to-be-read pile.

I should have read this sooner. There are characters within a story within the book, but they're not what the book is about. In fact, the book is about an author who wrote a book that was about something, but people didn't get it and he went away and encountered another writer who wrote a play that was about something but not about the something the writer thought it was about.

Confused? Don't be. Don't think about it. Just read the book and keep reading and keep reading and immerse yourself in it. I was enthralled by the characters, the turns in the story, the quiet and perfectly intricate way the story unfolded. By the end, when the fog lifted from the story, I was sobbing. I was crushed by this story, but it was so GOOD.

I've seen some mixed reviews of this book - I am on the side of considering it a masterpiece. This was probably one of the best books I have read this year, and is going into my pantheon of top books I ask people to read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Tawny.
58 reviews3 followers
May 25, 2016
I was sorry to read the Publisher’s Weekly review of this novel. I couldn’t disagree more with the reviewer’s take on this book.

The Life of Pi is one of my all-time favorite novels, so when Yann Martel published his latest novel, I was hoping for more of the same: a novel that would touch my heart and haunt my consciousness. So I ran right out and spent the big bucks for the hard-bound copy. Beatrice and Virgil did more than touch my heart; it tore it out and handed it to me on a plate. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Simply put, Beatrice and Virgil is an allegory of the Holocaust. Had I known that when I bought it, I wouldn't have. I've already read plenty about the Holocaust and am well aware of the atrocities and inhumanity. What I lacked was the emotional response to it, cold-hearted wretch that I am. Yann Martel gives the clue as to why his approach is so effective: history relates the facts; fiction reveals the emotional impact behind the facts.

Henry is our hero, obviously a self-portrait of Mr. Martel himself. He is a writer living off the proceeds of his last novel which sold thousands of copies and was translated into several languages. While deciding what to do next, he receives a letter from an old taxidermist, who requests his help with a play he is writing. The play is about a donkey and a howler monkey, our Beatrice and Virgil.

The story of Beatrice and Virgil is not a pretty one. Several times when reading I found myself literally turning my head away from the page because of the enormity of what they endured. Other times, I found myself with tears running down my face as I clutched the book to my chest. When it was finally over, save for the last chapter, I was astonished and dumb-founded at the artistry and emotional impact of it. And when I came to the last chapter Games for Gustav, I was thrilled, thinking, finally some lighter fare! But it was not to be. When I read the Games for Gustav (and don’t you dare read it until you’ve read the entire book), my jaw fell open, I gasped, and my poor husband, reading next to me in bed, wondered what on earth was going on.

I really can’t say anymore about the book. Nothing I can say can even begin to describe how much I am in awe of Mr. Martel’s writing ability and what this sad, powerful story meant to me. I just don’t possess that degree of eloquence. Mr. Martel does.
Profile Image for Noam.
607 reviews15 followers
May 28, 2015
I really liked parts of this book - the play within the story was pretty interesting. However, the book as a whole seemed to be one long explanation for why Martel hasn't published anything since Life of Pi, and frankly, I don't care why he hasn't written since then. I don't think that authors "owe" us anything just because they write one really good book - if that's all they write, that's fine, it's awesome that they gave us that much.

Martel seems to be both trying to excuse not having published, as well as rationalize why he's writing about the subject he's writing about (he sets it up to be a surprise, but it's obvious from pretty early on). The reasons he gives for writing about that subject aren't very compelling. In fact, he even has the publisher tell the fictionalized version of Martel that someone comes out with a moving book about that subject every few years, and that he might want to choose another subject. Alright, Martel, we get it, you're a little insecure. A hundred and fifty pages of rationalization for 50 pages of interesting story just isn't worth my time.
Profile Image for Marko Vasić.
456 reviews140 followers
August 4, 2021
Bilo kakva aluzija na Dantea i njegovu „Božanstvenu komediju“ meni privlači pažnju. „Beatriče i Vergilije“ su me, svakako, privukli naslovom, onda opisom na zadnjoj korici i, na kraju, samom jezovitom i jezgrovitom atmosferom koju roman pruža. Potpuno mi je interesantna i originalna ideja koju je pisac iskoristio da, zabašureno alegorijom, iskaže i objasni temu i motiv koji su mu bili inspiracija – holokaust. O njemu je pisao i nosilac radnje u romanu, takođe pisac, i bio oštro iskritikovan i pokoleban nerazumevanjem urednika da obrađuje BAŠ tu temu. Međutim, jednog čitaoca će, upravo, ta tema privući i naterati da kontaktira pisca preko „klasičnog“ pisma – pisanog rukom u kojem traži eksplicitno, i ne pitajući ga, pre toga, da li je u mogućnosti, pomoć oko jednog dramskog teksta koji je pisao godinama, a trebalo mu je par poveznica koje mu nisu nikako dolazile. Tu je sledeća eukatastrofa u romanu – čitalac je taksidermist. Zanimanje koje mi je uvek izazivalo ambivalentna osećanja – s jedne strane divljenje dobroj preparaciji životinjskog tela i umetničkom oblikovanju nekog pokreta ili pripreme na pokret koji bi životinja, eventualno, napravila, pre nego što vreme za nju „stane“, a sa druge strane – pomalo bizarna smirenost takvog jednog zanatlije da prepariše nešto što je nekada disalo i imalo osećaje (mada, deo moje profesije se vrlo ukršta sa ovom drugom stavkom, tako da ne mogu da kažem da ga ne razumem u potpunosti). Takav jedan zanatlija tražio je pomoć od pisca. Sve bi to bilo sasvim uobičajeno, da taksidermista nije izgledao, po Martelovom opisu, ni manje ni više kao Babadook ili Nosferatu – stravično visok, suvonjav, odeven u crno, bled i ispijenog lica. Nosioci njegovog dramskog teksta su Beatriče i Vergilije – Danteovi vodiči: Vergilije kroz pakao, a Beatriče kroz raj. U ovom slučaju, to su – životinje. Beatriče je magarica, a Vergilije je majmun drekavac. Simbolično – oglašavanje ove vrste majmuna je toliko jezivo da onaj koji ga čuje ima utisak da je u predvorju pakla, a magarica je suprotno tome, mirna i staložena priroda. Upravo, pojava ovog teksta u tekstu je meni nešto potpuno interesantno i ne baš učestalo. Osim toga, Martel konstantno pravi aluzije, ali i otvorene refleksije na nekoliko poznatih književnih dela, pored „Božanstvene komedije“, i to: Čekajući Godoa (jer Beatriče i Vergilije početak drame zatiče na pustom polju sa usamljenim drvetom – kako počinje i Beketova drama, a sve se odigrava u provinciji „Košulja“; košulja na pruge; uspravne pruge – više nego jasna aluzija na logorašku „uniformu“) i vrlo eksplicitno (budući da citira čitave delove iste), na priču Gistava Flobera „Legenda o svetom Julijanu Hospitatoru“, objavljenu u knjizi Tri pripovetke koju jedva čekam da pročitam. Koliko god delovalo da sam ovde izneo čitavu suštinu ove neobimne knjige, to nije ni približno tačno – ovo što sam ispisao poslužiće onima koji se odluče da pročitaju knjigu tek kao smernica, ukoliko nisu upoznati sa delima i aluzijama na dela koja sam pomenuo. Ova drama-u-romanu je i priča o iskupljenju, jer, upravo je obskurni taksidermist iz priče bio jedan od saučesnika i izvršilac mnogih ubistava u Aušvicu, što se na nekoliko mesta aluzivno, ali vrlo prepoznatljivo i opisuje. Od ubeđenja da ću pročitati jedan zanimljivi putopisni roman, kako je opis na zadnjoj korici upućivao, ispostavilo se da sam nabasao na poprilično jezovitu (da ne kažem – horor) priču, čija me tematika uvek razdrma i tera na promišljanja o toj temi, što, na kraju, ne može a da ne rezultira blagim uznemirenjem.
Profile Image for Andi.
Author 20 books179 followers
June 3, 2010
I am a child of postmodern literature. In college, my postmodern lit class with Samuel Smith was my favorite lit course because it gave me the framework to talk about all the things I love – metanarrative, self-referentiality, deconstruction. Yann Martel’s new book Beatrice and Virgil contains all these things – a play within a novel, the commentary on writing that applies to the book itself, a complexity of story lines that can, ultimately, be broken down into one central theme – the value of suffering. Good stuff.

The basic plot is that a writer, Henry, has given up on writing because his latest book, a “flip book” on the Holocaust (a novel for half the book and an essay on the “flip” side of the book), has been handily decimated by an editorial board. He picks up his life and moves to an unnamed big city where he builds a new existence of waiting tables at a chocolaterie and acting in an amateur theater. Then, one day he gets a package in the mail. The package contains a story by Flaubert and an excerpt from a play. These documents begin a relationship with a skilled taxidermist, the playwright, and bring Henry back, again, to the questions of truth and suffering that he was exploring in his own book.

Some reviewers have called the prose “clunky,” and I wouldn’t disagree with that sentiment. At moments, it’s a bit sloggish to make my way through the text. But these moments are more than compensated for by the lovely descriptions – Henry’s write-up of the way a Howler monkey screams is gorgeous. (By the way, what’s with all the Howler monkeys these days? They appear in Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, too.) And the insights about human nature, the Holocaust, and pain are profound, real, true – in fact, they remind me a great deal of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, my favorite play of all time (and a reference Martel also makes in the novel.)

This isn’t an easy read. As I said, the prose is dense at times, and the story, while easy to follow, is multi-layered. Of course, suffering itself isn’t easy and neither are the descriptions of torture and death that come in these pages. But then, I wouldn’t want it to be. If pain is too beautiful, is it really pain?

If you like The Life of Pi, if you enjoy postmodern novels, if you love animals, or if you appreciate fresh writing about the Holocaust, pick up this book. You’ll come to love all the characters, even the hard to love ones.
Profile Image for Marc-Antoine.
419 reviews55 followers
February 11, 2016
A very difficult read in the end, but one that will help me be a better person... I didn't know where this story was going, but once it was revealed to me it opened my eyes to horrors that I will probably never fully understand. I can't say that I enjoyed this story, but in some ways I felt it. Ultimately it brought me to tears.
Profile Image for Alayne Bushey.
97 reviews13 followers
February 28, 2019
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)

Profile Image for Ashish Kumar.
249 reviews53 followers
July 13, 2021
“Slice a pear and you will find that its flesh is incandescent white. It glows with inner light. Those who carry a knife and a pear are never afraid of the dark”.
-Yann Martel

I have been in this reading business long enough to know that only once in a while, one picks up a book and from the very first page can predict that this is going to be an extraordinary experience, one that may overshadow everything one has read so far or will read in the future and if compared, nothing can glow brighter and more vibrant than the memory of reading the said book. I have been a reader, an ardent one for only seven years (yes, wasn’t born one) and in all those years only few books manage to give me that experience; The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, How To Be Both, The Lacuna, Call Me By Your Name, Gitanjali, A Little Life, Wuthering Heights, Midnight's Children and few others and so imagine my happiness when I felt I was having the same experience with Beatrice And Virgil.

Here, Yann Martel very artfully tells a story of a writer Henry, who meets an elderly taxidermist who in turn introduces him to his life long companions- a donkey and a howler monkey named Beatrice and Virgil and from there, starts a tale which spirals down to utter chaos. Partially told in the style of a play, the book’s main questions are more about literature and what stories we tell or not tell, how we represent and what liberties one can take as an artist while telling someone else story? than about us/humans. While reading it, parts of this book reminded me of Backett’s play Waiting For Godot which I read last week because this too felt a bit pointless and seemed to go nowhere. The dialogues between Beatrice and Virgil were in similar tone to Vladimir and Estragon and the play even began around a tree. The story is an allegory and it's better if you find it yourself of what!

It’s simple, deceptively so but very intelligent so much so that it becomes, at least in the beginning like an argumentative essay on the nature of novels but not at the expanse of the story. The play inside is brutal, so beware! There’s a long description of animal torture which isn’t there for the shock factor but actually contributes to the themes and overall story. As the book progresses, the tension and the suspense that builds up feels like a thriller and god, the ending will take your breath away.
58 reviews1 follower
May 3, 2010
Complete opposite of his first book The Life of Pi which was intriguing, fascinating, different and positive. While this story is also written through symbolism with the intent to make you analyze and interpret, the net result leaves you feeling used. Having said that it is extremely well written. The story within a story within a story is intriguing. All of it has serious potential but ultimately very dissatisfying. Spoiler alert: The story begins with an author's story getting rejected because he tries to tell the holocaust through a different manner. The editors reject this method finding the holocaust as a subject never to be messed with in its telling. Ultimately the book ends up being about the holocaust. And it ends of being the telling of the holocaust in a different manner. It is as if the author thinks we will disagree with the fictional editors in his story and like his book but really the author just foreshadows the failure of his own book. The book ends up being creepy instead of fascinating.
Profile Image for Ana.
513 reviews87 followers
March 14, 2019
Este livro é como uma fábula de La Fontaine, as personagens são animais, que falam e dialogam sobre um tema do qual vamos retirar uma moral.
É uma história deveras original e criativa, que de uma forma metafórica nos fala de um tema sobre o qual não iríamos imaginar um burro e um macaco a falar: o Holocausto.
Já li em muitos livros descrições maravilhosas, de espaços, de monumentos, de objectos; mas nunca nenhuma me marcou tanto como a descrição de Yann Martel de uma pêra!
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,952 reviews1,293 followers
February 28, 2018
The words “dull” and “lazy” come to mind.

I don’t think Beatrice & Virgil was on my to-read list for any reason other than its author. Yes, I have read Life of Pi, and I suppose it was all right and I liked it well-enough at the time, though I’m thinking that if I do ever go back and re-read it I’m going to feel somewhat meh about it. Yann Martel is a paradigm example of a CanLit author who is impressive to the impressionable type of young mind I had back in my teens and early twenties, but as I get older and more cynical and less patient with pretentious literary bullshit, these kinds of stories start to wear on me.

Henry is a moderately successful author, who publishes under a pseudonym. His most recent endeavour is a combination of novel and essay about the representation of the Holocaust in fiction. When his publisher essentially shoots down the whole idea, Henry sinks into a funk. He and his wife move to a country in Europe, where they can enjoy the easy-living kind of lifestyle that fictional writers of Henry’s calibre often enjoy. Then, one day, Henry receives among his fan-mail a curious, bulky package from a local sender. It contains a Flaubert short story and the page to a play, by the sender, about a donkey named Beatrice and a monkey named Virgil. Henry visits the sender, an ornery and dispassionate taxidermist, and despite a cold reception and little in the way of small talk from this man, Henry takes it upon himself to help the taxidermist with this play. Their relationship does not develop, though, and it all kind of ends in tears, but I guess by the end we’re supposed to learn that bad things at least spur a writer’s imagination to make good art about the Holocaust? Idk.

Writing this review, I have this sudden urge to compare Henry to Michael Beard from Solar . This isn’t a very fair comparison, because Beard is a much worse person than Henry. Yet Martel’s narration reminds me somewhat of McEwan’s, and both characters exhibit so little in the way of character development throughout the novel (though Beatrice & Virgil takes place over a much shorter time period). Both books have this very dry narration that exposes us to the protagonist’s thoughts but never reifies other characters on the page. We don’t really get to know Henry’s wife, Sarah, until the very end of the book; otherwise, she, like the rest of the characters, simply exists as someone else within Henry’s sphere of experience. Notably, Henry has precious few conversations in this book—he doesn’t seem to have any friends. And while this is obviously a choice on Martel’s part to portray Henry in such a light, it also creates a very dry (and somewhat dull) narrative framework.

Then you have these large chunks of a short story within the story and a play-within-the-play. Plays within the play are great for plays; I find them less successful, in general, in novels. In this case, of course, Martel uses the excerpts from the taxidermist’s play to shed light on the taxidermist’s philosophy, building up to the reveal at the end that’s supposed, I believe, to make us think more about how we portray the Holocaust in our literature. If anything, though, the heavy allegory draping these pages makes for a very opaque theme. If I want to read a book about the Holocaust, I’m going to read a book about the Holocaust. And I don’t really care about Henry’s views on writing books about the Holocaust, because I don’t really care about Henry much.

Indeed, I think I might just have to nix reading any more books whose protagonists are themselves writers. There’s a bit too much navel-gazing that goes on, in my opinion, especially in these highly literary novels. Martel is trying to make some kind of grand point about storytelling, about the potential for books and other forms of literature to help us ask poignant questions about the darker parts of the human condition.

I’m just not here for it. I’m over there for it.

I don’t really care that Henry is having a tough time writing his latest novel or writing in general or that he wants to help a creepy taxidermist. I don’t care about a play within the story about a talking donkey and monkey who want to act like philosophical avatars for the author. Add on to that a somewhat abrupt shift in tone at the end, a twist I neither saw coming nor particularly wanted, and there’s actually nothing in this book that I do like.

I don’t know if I would go so far as to label this book bad. But it’s pretty much emblematic of what I don’t like about CanLit these days: it is a bland kind of story that thinks it is more important than it is, and we need to stop giving out cookies for these kinds of things. We need to stop arbitrarily awarding certain authors the praise and laurels, etc., for writing “serious” fiction while other authors go unrecognized or generally unremarked simply because they happen to be writing about pirates or robots or robot pirates on spaceships (fuck yeah). This is not, I should probably be clear, Yann Martel’s fault—I’m not suggesting some kind of Illuminati-esque conspiracy wherein Martel and Atwood and Boyden meet up in a forest grove in robes and cowls and chant in order to prevent the intrusion of inappropriate works into the CanLit Canon. And our media is slowly starting to recognize different types of fiction these days—very pleased to see something like Madeline Ashby’s Company Town show up on Canada Reads last year.

If you really enjoyed Beatrice & Virgil, all the more power to you. But as I sat in the bath on Sunday morning, toes pruning up and tea slowly cooling, pondering the final pages of this book … I just shrugged. It didn’t intrigue me, didn’t keep me captivated. Certainly did not move me the way one might want a book even tangentially related to the Holocaust to do. Martel definitely has some flair when it comes to experimenting with his stories, but this isn’t the kind of thing that appeals to me any longer, if indeed it ever did.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
52 reviews
September 15, 2010
I liked what he tried to do.
I liked the cadence and the contrast with violence at the end.
I thought he could have done a better job with Beatrice and Virgil's sense of anxiety and paranoia. He tried but I think fell short of the sentiment.

At other times I REALLY enjoyed some of his simple themes. The concept of appreciating silence best when there was chaos, rather than quiet, as it highlighted what was absent.
I enjoyed his descriptions of beauty in simple things. He did that very well.

I liked the idea of a parallel to Dante's Divine Comedy with Beatrice and Virgil as our guides to discovery.
I like the idea of multiple approaches to allegory;
Literal... the story of a donkey and monkey. the story of Henry(s)
Typological... the similarity of the story to Holocaust... meaningless violence against peaceful people, veneer of civility covering aggression/brutality, the search for way to deal with psychological trauma.
Moral... warning of lost vigilance
Anagogical... The theme of violence against humanity

I felt that he fell short of the last. In an attempt to create a morality extending beyond the Nazi story to make it a truly universal theme he started well with the concepts of animals instead of people in the country of shirt. He had 2 Henrys... ?various faces of humanity.... He introduced the themes of behaviour that characterized the victims trapped and abusers hidden in plain sight... He was so close to making this a universal story...

But then falls short tying these themes to the single tragedy. Making it not (a warning against the persecution of the Roma by the French... or the swarming mob that chases a boy onto a roof in BC, Canada, throws him off and continues to beat him... or the untried blindfolded palestinian prisoner posed for photograph by israeli soldier for a souvenir...) but rather A PARTICULAR horrific tragedy. One that can be
attributed to those people... done to them... done by them. Not us, letting fear overtake reason, and pride overtake humility, in a world where might does not serve right but subjugates it.

Cool theme.... mimic of Dante...

Hell... Inferno a the end. Evil Henry dies in fire... Just ending. Destroyed in fire... Holocaust ("whole burned") Justice in that like Dante's hell the punishment was particular to the culprit... destruction of Henry and his work of ""preservation"

Pergatory... the shop... Dante's "the conversion of the soul from the sorrow and misery of sin to the state of grace"

Paradise... I think what Good Henry was supposed to be... balance.. reflective action.. moderation.... courage... perseveration... hope... Maybe what we are supposed to be after reflection...

Maybe I'm being harsh with the 3/5... but He was so close to being universal... Something Great instead of good....

But I'm especially hard on people that fall when they are poised to be great.... Hence my political dislike to Capitalism in extreme manipulated by unethical corporations... or Israeli Foreign Policy dictated by fear... or
Apple not letting me use Java

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Maria.
934 reviews104 followers
July 5, 2010
Envolvente é a melhor palavra para definir este livro. Com uma história lindíssima, entre Beatriz e Virgílio, Yann Martel define muito bem os horrores do Holocausto.
Henry, um conhecido e reputado escritor de best-sellers sai do seu país natal quando um livro que projectara de uma forma diferente e em que relatava os horrores do Holocausto lhe é vetado pela sua editora. Decide partir com a mulher para uma outra cidade e aí fazer uma nova vida, completamente diferente do que havia feito até agora. Nessa nova cidade Henry começou a trabalhar numa cafetaria até que conhece um seu homónimo que lhe envia um excerto de uma história um tanto ou quanto estranha: uma conversa entre dois animais (uma burra e um macaco) que falam de fruta e, sobretudo, de uma pêra. Juntamente com esse excerto vinha um outro, “A Lenda de São Julião Hospitaleiro” de Flaubert. O intuito do outro Henry era pedir-lhe auxílio, embora o escritor não soubesse efectivamente de que auxílio se tratava. Começa a procurar o autor do excerto e vai dar com uma loja de animais embalsamados e conhece o taxidermista Henry e, juntamente com ele, conhece a totalidade da história de Beatriz e Virgílio, a burra e o macaco que dissertavam sobre fruta.
À medida que vai conhecendo melhor a profissão do taxidermista, vai também explorando o diálogo que vão tendo os animais e descobre que este é uma alegoria ao Holocausto. Coincidência ou não, o mesmo tema que haviam recusado os seus editores. De uma outra forma o taxidermista comparava o extermínio dos Judeus ao extermínio dos próprios animais (alguns deles já extintos) e que ele tentava recuperar, quanto mais não seja, através de reproduções ou do embalsamento.

“Para mim, a fé é como estar ao sol. Quando se está ao sol, pode evitar-se criar sombra? Pode sacudir-se essa área de escuridão que se agarra a nós, sempre com a nossa forma, como se quisesse lembrar-nos constantemente de nós próprios?”

“Estava a ver o extermínio trágico dos animais através do destino trágico dos judeus.”

Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,250 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.