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 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 - and the epic journey they undertake together. With all the spirit and originality that made Life of Pi so treasured, this brilliant new novel takes the listener on a haunting odyssey. On the way, Martel asks profound questions about life and art, truth and deception, responsibility and complicity.
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Before buying this book, I was intrigued by the many angry reviews claiming that Beatrice And Virgil was offensive and "tricked" the reader. I couldn't disagree more with those opinions. There is nothing offensive in this book - there are some dark and disturbing scenes, but offensive? No, not unless many other supposedly "classic" novels throughout history covering man's darkest deeds are offensive too. And trickery? While the reveal at the end of the book is very sudden, the author and main protagonist hint many times during the story that all is not as it seems, many times openly voicing questions about the undercurrents of the story involving Virgil, a howler monkey, and Beatrice, a donkey. Beatrice & Virgil begins with a successful author, named Henry who coincidentally? has written a successful novel with animals as the characters. His next novel is rejected by his publishers and he takes a break from writing to reassess things. He receives a letter from a reader asking for help, along with highlighted passages from a story by Flaubert, and a scene from a play he assumes is written by the sender of the letter. Realising the address was not far from his, he decides to write back and hand deliver the letter to the reader's postbox. When he arrives to deliver the letter he discovers the address is a taxidermy shop and he enters and ends up meeting the man who had written to him. The taxidermist says he has spent his life writing a play and needs Henry's help with some problems he has finishing it. The taxidermist is a very odd and cold man but has written a play in which the two main characters, Beatrice & Virgil, are animals living on a shirt. Yes, a shirt. In contrast to the taxidermist's cold demeanour, Beatrice and Virgil engage in heartfelt conversations about events they can only bring themselves to call "the horrors". Over the course of the novel, the taxidermist reads extracts of his play to Henry, who has trouble matching the author's gruff and cold aloofness to the animated and passionate animals in the story. Henry visits the taxidermist several times, trying to understand what his play is about and what message the taxidermist is trying to express with his story, all the while unable to put his finger on the dark undercurrents in the story. At the final meeting of Henry and the taxidermist, the truth behind the story is revealed, and quite suddenly and shockingly. In fact, the entire story twists within just one sentence. With this, the story continues on very briefly, coming to an end, which while macabre, deeply sobering and dark, is far more satisfying than the ending of Martel's previous book, "Life of Pi". For me, the mark of a great book is that you are still mulling it over in the days after you finish it, and that has been the case for me after finishing Beatrice & Virgil. The narration was excellent - sometimes accents can bring a narrator down, but accents handled very well and overall told with a storyteller's tongue.
Yann Martel is an exceptional author & this work does not let his readers down.
While Henry, it's main character decries the lack of fiction works about the Holocaust, this is a fiction about the holocaust.
Unlike Martel's earlier works, this story has a significantly disquieting effect. Which is exactly as it ought to be. No book about the Holocaust, fiction or non-fiction ought to leave its reader untouched.
The taxidermist is a strange & discomforting character & the more time Henry spends with him or reading from his play the more uncomfortable we become, while we are drawn into the characters of Beatrice & Virgil.
It is an awkward feeling to so admire the play written by a character so disturbing in every other way.
My favourite scene is one from the play in which Virgil describes to Beatrice a pear - it's form, scent, texture. This description is unparalleled in any other work I've read. It sounds odd, perhaps dull at best, but trust me, not for a moment. Divine.
Unsettling, occasionally horrific, this story will be appreciated by people who enjoy literary fiction & who are looking for something special.