Book Review: Beatrice and Virgil

Posted: December 17, 2011 in Book Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Beatrice and Virgil

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I have just finished reading “Beatrice and Virgil” by Yann Martel.

It is a bit of a strange book, and i didn’t like parts of it so much, and i thought it was a little boring actually. I guess the fact it covers humanity in all its glory was a little dull. The characters are a bit odd. The protagonist, Henry is a typical author desperately trying to get his book published. Same old story, i thought, writer tries to get his amazing idea across, and is subsequently shot down from all sides. Henry has an epiphany that he won’t write anymore on his book on the Holocaust and stops writing and just lives his life instead. However, the subject of the Holocaust doesn’t end there, it is hinted at and picked up later in the novel.

One day he receives a letter from a reader needing help with his play. He eventually meets this man who turns out to be a taxidermist with a shop full of preserved animals. The taxidermist himself is a very strange character, a giant of an old man who doesn’t look as old as he is. He is a recluse who isn’t comfortable in the presence of humans, but seems perfectly at ease with his dead animals, although, oddly, he takes no notice of Henry’s living dog who accompanies the writer on his visits to the taxidermist.

The story of the taxidermist’s play is centered around a talking donkey and monkey, the Beatrice and Virgil of the novel’s title. The two animals talk about everything from faith to pears to a terrible event which they come to call the Horrors. The two animals are intelligent and question many things, and both have emotional baggage which we only get a small glimpse of. Towards the end of the novel, we get a description of what terrible thing happened to Beatrice before she met Virgil and that’s where we start to realise what the novel is getting at and it quickly descends into some horrible events in both the inner story of Beatrice and Virgil and the story of Henry and the taxidermist.

The strange feeling i got from the way the taxidermist acts made me feel uncomfortable through the novel, knowing that little signs hinted at something ominous happening towards the ending, and i was right. I won’t spoil it for you! You’ll have to read it yourself!

I give it 7/10 as it was interesting enough that i couldn’t put it down and it makes you think about things differently, what is morally right and all that. The characters are sufficiently intriguing, the taxidermist in particular is creepily mysterious. It isn’t my favourite book and it’s quite short for a novel but there’s plenty of content for you to get your teeth into. I think i was wrong to describe it as boring, as it is actually very well written and although it isn’t a genre i usually read it is quite fascinating. If you want something original, clever and about humanity, then i recommend that you read it.

  1. susanbright says:

    I too read Beatrice and Virgil, but could not talk anyone else into reading it. Actually I did talk one person in my book club into reading it and she hated it! I could not put it down. I agree, it was a very strange book, and definitely not one of my favorites however as soon as I finished it I needed to talk to someone about it….but no one was there! Thanks for the review.

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