Beatrice and Virgil
By Yann Martel
Completed May 7, 2012
When Beatrice and Virgil was released in 2010, it received scathing reviews from critics. I had received an advanced reader’s edition of Yann Martel’s book, but after seeing such bad reviews, my copy of Beatrice and Virgil got relegated to the back of my shelf. When looking for a short book to read, I found it and decided to give it a whirl, half expecting to stop after a few pages. Well, I finished the book in two sittings.
Beatrice and Virgil is a cerebral, philosophical novel that, at its core, is a Holocaust story. Henry is the narrator, and he is a highly successful author who wants to write a story about the Holocaust that is creative but raw. He comes up with a “flip book” that is part essay, part fiction. Certain that he created something brilliant, Henry was devastated to learn that his book would not be accepted by his publisher. Restless, Henry moves, takes up a job at a chocolate store and spends time answering fan letters. One day, he received a cryptic letter from someone locally, asking for help. Henry seeks out his fan, and he strikes up an odd friendship with the man, also named Henry, who was a taxidermist.
I won’t reveal too much more about the plot, but suffice it to say that the last few pages had an unexpected turn. At least this reader didn’t see it coming.
Critics blasted Martel for writing a Holocaust story as an animal allegory, trivializing these events through the torture of a donkey and a Howler monkey. I think the critics missed the point. Just like his main character, Martel devised a creative but raw story about the Holocaust that is provocative and gripping. There are parts of Beatrice and Virgil that will grab you by the throat (and be warned: a heart-wrenching scene of animal cruelty). By the end of the book, I felt quite convinced that Martel pulled it off.
So, decide for yourself if you think Beatrice and Virgil is a work of creativity or trivialization. For me, it was a work of pure creativity. ( )
FTC: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review on my blog.