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Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
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Beatrice and Virgil

by Yann Martel

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (126)  Dutch (4)  German (1)  All languages (131)
Showing 1-5 of 126 (next | show all)
Compellingly written but very, very disturbing.
  aratiel | Sep 5, 2018 |
In Beatrice and Virgil, Martel plays with novel form once again. The main character - Henry - is clearly a representation of Martel. He is a successful author who has spent 5 years working on a book which is an allegory of the Holocaust, only to have it crushed by his editors. Utterly defeated and wishing to leave his craft for good, he and his wife move to a new country and city and are enjoying getting on with life when he receives a letter from a reader of his previous novel, and is pulled into the mysterious world of a taxidermist who is trying to perfect a play allegory of the Holocaust, in which a monkey called Virgil and a donkey called Beatrice represent the Jewish victims.

A lot more transpires beyond this, but.... no spoilers.

This novel got fairly annihilated by critics at the time. Most of this criticism seemed to be on two fronts - firstly, it was felt that Martel was being disrespectful of the Holocaust through his allegory, and secondly, it was felt that in writing a version of himself into the novel he was overly consumed by his own egotism.

I didn't feel either of these things when I read it. It shouldn't have worked but it did, despite being really quite odd. I don't think for a minute Martel was making light of the Holocaust - on the contrary, as his character was trying to do, I feel he was simply trying to use an alternative view to bring home the horrors of what happened. It's difficult reading in places, and I think it successfully enables you to properly place the horrors in your mind in relation to the actual Holocaust, despite it being represented in a different way. I also enjoyed Martel as a writer writing about him writing the book we were essentially reading. I think that's been done before, but for me it was interesting rather than a display of arrogance and self-importance.

4.5 stars - a short yet astonishing read. ( )
  AlisonY | Apr 15, 2018 |
Hard to know how to rate this; my reaction is complicated. The first part seemed to me like a too-long, boring introduction. The middle was a muddle. The last part was horrifying and gripping and powerful. ( )
  Siubhan | Feb 28, 2018 |
My reaction: O_O

My rating: You like it but you don't "like" it.

Yeah. Pretttty much that. ( )
  kephradyx | Jun 20, 2017 |
I guess everyone is introduced to Yann Martel's writing through the beautiful and wonderful LIFE OF PI. I loved that novel and although it has been several years since I read it, the story stays with me.

It was with eagerness that I picked up BEATRICE AND VIRGIL. The prose is excellent, though it seems to lack the depth and beauty of PI. The narrative, though seemingly pedestrian at first, carries you along.

Martel loves language, that is obvious in this novel as well as LIFE OF PI, and he makes his readers love language as well. He also loves art and obviously believes in its power.

This novel seems to be an exploration of the power of art set against the backdrop of processing the horror of the Holocaust. If that sounds strange, it is, but it seems to work in this book.

In this novel, we see the power of art to help us process things that are too terrible to deal with in all of their ugliness. They must be filtered, subdued, even tamed through art forms. Only then can they be handled and only then can their power over us be destroyed, or at least managed.

The story in this novel, and the story within the story in this novel was lovely until, quite suddenly, it wasn't. And when it got ugly, it got hideous and it did so at lightening speed and in such a way that it leaves you feeling attacked and ill at ease.

I find it unsettling that in a novel about trying to use art to heal, Martel uses it to harm.

In short, this story is going to stay with me for a while. Though I think I would like to set side and forget much of it. I won't be able to. ( )
  JosephMcBee | Dec 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 126 (next | show all)
I'm sorry, but this allegory is no "Animal Farm" or "Watership Down." It's a cloying episode of "Winnie the Pooh" In Which Piglet and Rabbit Are Hacked Apart and Eaten. Martel's attempt to represent 6 million Jews with a pleasant donkey and a friendly monkey is just well-meaning sentimentality dressed up with postmodern doodads. "Beatrice and Virgil" does little to bring us closer to appreciating the plight of those victims or to fathoming the cruelty of their murderers. Whatever "artful metaphor" Martel began with, it ends up skinned and stuffed -- not alive, not even lifelike.
 
Mr. Martel’s new book, “Beatrice and Virgil,” unfortunately, is every bit as misconceived and offensive as his earlier book was fetching. It, too, features animals as central characters. It, too, involves a figure who in some respects resembles the author. It, too, is written in deceptively light, casual prose... Nonetheless, his story has the effect of trivializing the Holocaust, using it as a metaphor to evoke “the extermination of animal life” and the suffering of “doomed creatures” who “could not speak for themselves.”
 
As the Holocaust has forever recast our understanding of humanity and historiography, so might Beatrice & Virgil, which ingeniously ruptures the division between worlds real and imagined, forcing us to reconsider how we think of documentary writing. Forget what this book is “about”: Yann Martel's new novel not only opens us to the emotional and psychological truths of fiction, but also provides keys to open its fictions ourselves, and to become, in some way, active participants in their creation.
 
At the end, author Henry develops some "games", 12 questions posing moral quandaries: would you allow your son to endanger his life to try to save the rest of the family? If you knew people were about to be killed and you couldn't stop it, would you warn them? If only Martel had bothered to dramatise any of these dilemmas, he might have produced a novel that didn't show the limits of representation quite so painfully.
 
Beatrice and Virgil is a chilling addition to the literature about the horrors most of us cannot imagine, and will stir its readers to think about the depths of depravity to which humanity can sink and the amplitude of our capacity to survive.
 

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yann Martelprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bridge, AndyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Henry's second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name, had done well.
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Book description
From the jacket: 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—and the epic journey they undertake together.

With all the spirit and originality that made Life of Pi so beloved, this brilliant new novel takes the reader 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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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--and the epic journey they undertake together.… (more)

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Canongate Books

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847677657, 1847679242

Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1921656255, 1921758279

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