Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
I finished off my string of fiction with Beatrice and Virgil, the new book by Yann Martel (of Life of Pi fame). It is written as a sort of story within a story. Martel creates a character that seems to be in part autobiographical. Henry is an author who has just gained fame from writing a book about animals. Now he has moved on and is set to write a book about the holocaust like nothing that has been written before. Except his attempt is shot down by his publisher and editor. Enter a taxidermist with a play about a donkey and a monkey. He shows it to Henry and thus begins a complicated emotional journey for both Henry and the reader. Henry is both repulsed and drawn to the stoic taxidermist, as he begins to realize more and more that the taxidermist has done what Henry was unable to do. Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the monkey must live in a society that has rejected them and worse. While trying to survive, the two characters rationalize their situation and comfort each other. The reader feels for the tragic characters without first having to see them as holocaust victims, the idea that Henry was unable to accomplish in his attempt. The whole book flows with an urgent poignancy that grabs the reader. It was emotional and at times unbearable, especially the final pages that describe the “Games for Gustav,” an idea that Beatrice and Virgil create to cope with their lives. Although I liked Life of Pi better, this was just as affecting and worth the read.