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Saturday 21 January 2012

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

When you pick up a book of an author you have previously read and enjoyed, your expectation from his new book automatically increases. I had high hopes from this book - Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel. The previous book by the author, Life of Pi is one of my favorite reads of all times. But, all my hopes with his new book came thrashing down as I turned pages after pages of the book without having a clue what the story is all about and then it came to me with a bang. Let me quote the blurb from the back of the book to get started:

"This story is the story of a donkey named Beatrice and a monkey named Virgil. It is also the story of an extraordinary journey undertaken by a man named Henry. It begins with a mysterious parcel, and it ends in a place that will make you think again about one of the most significant events of the twentieth century. Once you have finished reading it, it is impossible to forget."

I was HIGHLY intrigued by this blurb, so much so that I put aside the other books I had been reading and started with this one. Also, since the book was barely 200 pages, I didn't think it would take too long. The story started with a writer named Henry whose previous book was a huge success and he is working hard on a book about 'Holocaust'. He tries to present the stories from Holocaust in a different and 'never told before' style but his style and endeavors are rejected by the publishers. He decides to take a break and shifts to a different city and puts all the thoughts about his book at the back of his mind.

One day he receives a mysterious box containing excerpts from a play by Flaubert and another play which perhaps the sender himself had penned down. Henry traced the letter to a taxidermist and coincidentally his name was also Henry. The taxidermist reads out his play (whose main characters are stuffed animals present in his workshop- Beatrice, the donkey and Virgil, the howler monkey) to Henry.The first scene of the play was interesting where Virgil is trying to explain to Beatrice how a pear looks and tastes like. But from then onwards, the play is a jumble and I found it rather boring, crude and abstract.

And then  a few lines from the book sums up everything:

"Here was irrefutable proof that he was using the Holocaust to speak of the extermination of animal life. Doomed creatures that could not speak for themselves were being given the voice of a most articulate people who had been similarly doomed. He was seeing the tragic fate of animals through the tragic fate of Jews. The Holocaust as allegory."

 That is so bizarrely convenient! Here was an author whose book about Holocaust has been rejected and he comes across a Nazi who had somehow escaped detection and was living a solitary life. I felt aghast as a reader, here I was reading page after page trying to fathom what the author is trying to say and then in just a few lines you sum up the novel. Then in fact, a second thought dawned on me - was the writer Henry in this book Yann Martel himself? I do not know that for sure.

Even though I disliked the book to the core here are a few quotes from the book, I loved and think are thoughts to ponder on:

"To my mind, faith is like being in the sun. When you are in the sun, can you avoid creating a shadow? Can you shake that area of darkness that clings to you, always shaped like you, as if constantly to remind you of yourself? You can't. This shadow is doubt. And it goes wherever you go as long as you stay in the sun. And who wouldn't want to be in the sun?"

" If you are pitched into misery,remember that your days on this earth are counted and you might as well make the best of those you have left."

Linking it to A2ZChallenge for Letter B.

Thank you for stopping by! Cheers


  1. What a bizarre plot! I might give this one a miss... but i haven't read Life of Pi yet.. yeah, shame on me !

  2. i am yet to read the life of pi by this author.. he writes mostly with animals i guess.. a one time success formula doesnt repeat itself often..


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