My review of Beatrice and Virgil
September 3, 2010 Leave a comment
Yann Martel‘s Beatrice & Virgil fits itself in to (unlucky?) book number 13 in my “26 in 52 challenge“. Similar to Paulo Coelho, Yann Martel is an author whose first book drew me in and has had me coming back for more, even though each time I’m disappointed it was not as good as the first.
This is the third non-fiction book by Martel that I’ve read (the other two being Self and the amazing Life of Pi). It has a clever premise with two parallel stories. The first features an author who meets a taxidermist through a fan mail letter that got the best of his curiosity. The author finds out that the taxidermist requires his help writing a story, and throughout the novel the story unfolds as the taxidermist reads parts out loud. The other parallel features the story of Beatrice & Virgil, a donkey and howler monkey, respectively.
Beatrice & Virgil are by far the more enjoyable part of the novel. The dialogue between the two is quite visual and as a reader I feel like I’m with them as they go through their adventures, good and bad. Eventually it’s obvious to the author and the reader that the adventures of Beatrice & Virgil are a parallel to that of the persecution the Jews saw during the Holocaust. It’s done in a more innocent manner, almost like a children’s novel so for me it wasn’t very emotional, as it would be if it were a story of people going through the same ordeals.
Eventually the author, who has gone through major changes in his personal life, comes to the realization that the taxidermist is not very liked by his peers and is generally not a good person at all. This can be seen from the start of the novel, but it’s explained away as him being a old, lonely man with no family.
While the story itself was good, I didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to the novel. The use of animals was reminiscent of Martel’s Life of Pi, but failed to capture it’s vivid and emotional feel. I want to like Martel’s books, because he’s a fantastic writer, but I’m having trouble doing so. I give Beatrice & Virgil a 3/5.