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.
©2010 Yann Martel (P)2010 Canongate Audiobooks
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.
It is an excellent story, wonderfully narrated.
Avid listener, teacher of English as a foreign language in Mexico City. Very interested in recommendations.
Should have stopped listening when I got tired first, but I carried on, through the end. What a waste of time! The author came down the totem pole, his work in Life of Pi and this is not is the same level of comparison. Do not read it.
Compulsive listening: narrators voice is mesmerising, the story is very thought provoking.
Couldn't leave it until it had finished.
"A compelling listen"
Just as in Yann Martell's other book, the life of Pi, you find yourself drawn into an off-beat story which pushes you along in front of it like you are surfing a wave then suddenly pulls you underwater and back out leaving you feeling a little strange.
I loved Beatrice and Virgil, their dialogue was sweetly innocent and hypnotic.
Full marks for this book, I am looking forward very much to the next one.
"Don't waste your life on this book"
I bought this a while ago and had been saving it as I really enjoyed Life of Pi.
This book is tedious. I listen when commuting and could easily have fallen asleep at the wheel listening to it. Not only is the story tedious, but the narrator really gets on your nerves particularly when he is reading a book or play within the play.
So far I don't care about the characters at all and if there was an earthquake and they all perished then that would be too soon.
I got halfway through and decided there were better things to listen to that this!
I tried to give this no stars, bur website insisted on one.
"Not as good as his first"
Having really enjoyed 'Life of Pi', so was really excited when this came out after such a long wait. Sadly though, I was a bit disappointed. It wasn't bad exactly, just not as good as I'd expected. Very different from Pi, and an interesting idea, being centred around stuffed animals (the kind that used to be alive, rather than children's toy that is!) Probably still worth a listen, just don't expect anything like Pi...
"A perfect read if you want to feel depressed"
The writing is powerful and masterful, but the juxtaposing of Holocaust and taxidermy did not work for me. Graphic details of taxidermic craft though definitely enlightening were not inspiring. Detailed descriptions of torturing an intelligent donkey and other horrific scenes were neither revealing nor surprising . The aftertaste of this book for me is depression for the sake of depression. If you never felt depressed and wonder how it feels, this book may be a perfect read for you.
The reader did a good job, he is not to blame for the general impression from the book.
"What a disappointment"
Having read Life of Pi I was expecting great things of this book. After a few bleak days of depressed listening as I sunk into a black mood I gradually realised that there would be no redemption. Disliked characters, plot and style.
"Ambling, disjointed rubbish"
Some beautifully written passages don't even come close to compensating for this self-indulgent nonsense. Yann Martel, you owe me 6hrs 1min and an Audible credit.
"Life of Pi sets a standard not met"
I didn't dislike this book, but given that Life of Pi was exceptional, my expectations were high and this fell short of my expectations.
I wasn't mad about the narrator either, which may have had something to do with my feelings. I felt that he was very bland and I found it difficult to engage with his words.
"Life of Pi it is not........"
I was very disappointed with this as I loved Yann Martel's Life of Pi. It is a story within a story which goes into a fair amount of detail of taxidermy, which really didn't do it for me -in fact I have given up on it.
"thought provoking as expected"
If this donkey had been cast in Shrek it would be a very different film.
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