BOOK REVIEW: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann MartelBeatrice 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.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. raidergirl3
    May 09, 2012 @ 04:42:19

    I have that book, (I think Wendycat sent it to me) and had the same issue – some so-so reviews put it to the back of the pile. Glad to see that you liked it, and I will have to move it closer to the top of the pile.
    Did you read Life of Pi? I really enjoyed it, plus I’ve read his letters where he tried to convince our prime minister to read books. Poor Martel eventually gave up. Harper is such a dork.


  2. BermudaOnion
    May 09, 2012 @ 09:25:31

    I didn’t like the little twist at the end of The Life of Pi so I’m not sure this is for me.


  3. JoV
    May 09, 2012 @ 16:36:48

    Your review is the only positive one that I have heard so far. I forgot most of what I read in the Life of Pi. Not sure I’ll read this though.


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