Saturday 25 June 2011

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel - Book Review

Title: Beatrice and Virgil
Author: Yann Martel
Publisher: Canongate Books
Publication Date: 3rd April 2010
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Bought Copy

Fate can take many forms. For Henry, a writer living in a foreign city, it arrives in the form of an envelope from a reader. Instead of the usual fan mail, the envelope contains a story by Flaubert, a scene from a play featuring two characters named Beatrice and Virgil, and a note asking for Henry’s help. The note is signed “Henry,” and the return address is not far from where Henry lives. When Henry walks his dog to hand-deliver his response, he is surprised to discover a taxidermist’s shop. Here, stunning specimens are poised on the brink of action, silent and preternaturally still, yet bursting with the palpable life of a lost, vibrant world. And when the mysterious, elderly taxidermist introduces his visitor to Beatrice and Virgil—a donkey and a howler monkey—Henry’s life is changed forever. (Goodreads Synopsis)

Having loved Life of Pi I was surprised at the very mixed reviews this book received. Regardless, I decided to give it a go.
I read this book in two sittings and could easily have finished it in one if I hadn't been going out that first night.
Yes, this book does raise some difficult issues, and, yes, many of the literary devices found in this book are far from new.
Even so, I found myself drawn in to the world of the story and its characters. The allegory is very clear in so far as it reflects the Holocaust. This is never an easy topic and I suspect that may be key to some of the negative reviews.
This was not the sole focus of the book though, which also explored the life of the writer with, I feel, overtones and wry commentary on Martel's own success with Life of Pi. The references to this book within this new story are clear.
This is not a book for those who like a pleasant happy conclusion to their literature, but I think it will suit those who like to be challenged a bit by the books they read. 

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