Yann Martel wowed the world with his huge bestseller, Life of Pi. More than nine years later his next work, Beatrice and Virgil was published with much fanfare. I was looking forward to reading this book because I was a huge fan of Life of Pi. But Beatrice and Virgil did not enthrall me like Life of Pi had. I really didn’t enjoy it at all.
The first twenty pages (about 10 percent of the book), were spent in what I thought was semi-autobiographical whining about how hard it is to follow up a big bestseller with an out-of-the-box publishing concept. This book is about the Holocaust. It’s referenced obliquely and directly.
Henry, the main character, is a well known author much like Martel. He had a smash hit, and then had trouble convincing his publishers to publish his next work which he conceived as a ‘flip book’ about the Holocaust. After having his idea for the book rejected, he picks up his life and moves to a different city like a spoiled toddler might pick up his toys and move to another room when he doesn’t get his way.
In the new city, Henry is approached by a taxidermist who is trying finish writing a play titled, Beatrice and Virgil. He’s been writing the play for years. It is an allegory about the horror of the Holocaust starring a donkey named Beatrice and a howler monkey named Virgil. One of the problems with the character of the taxidermist is that he is a main character that we know little about. He’s a vehicle to present Beatrice and Virgil’s story. More is revealed about him at the end of the book, but by that time I couldn’t care less about what made him tick.
I thought the book used too many weird literary devices. I was annoyed by having to wade through long lists; reading snippets of a play within the book; reading the inclusion of many pages of a story by Flaubert; and being bombarded with not too subtle Holocaust references. Thankfully it was a short read, but that’s about the best thing I can say about it.
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Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Spiegel & Grau. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.