Yann Martel’s astonishing new novel begins with a successful writer attempting to publish his latest book, made up of a novel and an essay. Henry plans for it to be a “flip book” that the reader can start at either end, reading the novel or the essay first, because both pieces are equally concerned with representations of the Holocaust. His aim is to give the most horrifying of tragedies “a new choice of stories”, in order that it be remembered anew and in more than one way.
But no one is sympathetic to his provocative idea. What is your book about?" his editor repeatedly asks. Should it be placed in the fiction section of a bookstore or with the non-fiction books? a book seller asks. And where will the barcode go?
To them, Henry’s book is an unpublishable disaster. Faced with severe and categorical rejection, Henry gives up hope. He abandons writing, moves with his wife to a foreign city, joins a community theatre, becomes a waiter in a chocolatería. But then he receives a package containing a scene from a play, photocopies from a short story by Flaubert – about a man who hunts animals down relentlessly – and a short note: “I need your help.” Intrigued, Henry tracks down his correspondent, and finds himself in a strange part of the city, walking past a stuffed okapi into a taxidermist’s workshop.
The taxidermist – also named Henry – says he has been working on his play, A 20th-Century Shirt, for most of his life, but now he needs Henry’s help to describe his characters: the play’s protagonists are a stuffed donkey and a howler monkey named Beatrice and Virgil, respectively, and Henry’s successful book was in part about animals. And though his new acquaintance is austere, abrupt and almost unearthly, Henry the writer is drawn more and more deeply into Henry the taxidermist’s uncompromising world. The same goes for the listener.
©2010 Yann Martel (P)2010 Random House
"Martel’s mesmerizing Man Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi (2002) has become a cult classic, its richness of depth and meaning belying the startling basic story line....So it is with Martel’s latest novel, also a fable-type story with iceberg-deep dimensions reaching far below the surface of its general premise." (Booklist)
Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.
As I began this short novel I thought, what is this? No real plot, some very intriguing descriptions about a flipbook and a pear, and two authors both named Henry, both writing about the same subject. Before beginning Beatrice and Virgil I knew it was a work of fiction about the holocaust and I was interested to see how the holocaust was going to emerge out of a story about a donkey and a howler monkey. Emerge it did! Full of symbolism and allegoric meanings. This book can be interpreted in so many ways that no two people will read it and reap the same understanding from its words. There are so many phrases that stuck with me. In regards to the elaborate description of a pear, he says "time eats everything" and phrases like, "he's a howler monkey in a world that does not like howler monkeys". Once the generations affected by the holocaust die off, will anyone remember the horror? I think Martel's ultimate goal was to keep the holocaust alive, to keep people talking about it, to keep it off the back burner where it is forgotten. Even critical discussion is still discussion, and Martel is taking that risk. As Beatrice says to Virgil "How are we going to talk about what happened to us?" Virgil answers, "That's if we survive."
You will either hate or love this book. You may find it boring or enveloping. You may be offended or think it's brilliant. I fall into the latter group. At times, especially towards the end, it is very graphic, dark and hard to get through, but hey, we are discussing the holocaust! This small book packs a huge punch that will stay with me for a long time. Whether you like Beatrice and Virgil or not, it's worth a shot, if only to discover its affect on you.
As for the narrator Mark Bramhall, bravo! He did a wonderful job at depicting all the characters, he brought them to life.
as with 'life of Pi', beatrice & virgil is a story that opens like a stunning flower. it kept me hooked till the end and left me feeling a bit blasted- an intense story, worth every minute.
Science itself finds that trauma is harder to talk about the worse it is. Something about the pain itself causes speech to be blocked to varying degrees. Then there is the difficulty of expressing what nearly cannot be expressed to people who can barely relate to it, further isolating from hope the survivors of the trauma. Working to express such difficult material is a service. This book is a practical tool, a tool that works on a deep level, where you might not be quite sure how it facilitates such speech, but so it does.
I love this story and the philosophy about literature.
Games with Gustav
Not if he's doing accents.
I cried at the end
I'm Canadian and do not say
This is the closest I've ever gotten to the end of a book and bailed out. I quit listening with 47 minutes to go.
As others have written, this is a book about words and descriptions. Maybe if I were reading the words on the page I would have enjoyed the book more, with my reading pace matching the pace of the book.
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