Thursday, March 22, 2012
Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel
Anyone who enjoyed Life of Pi will similarly be enthralled by Yann Martel's "beatrice & virgil". This clever, thought-provoking and page-turning book moved me far more than Sarah's Key's sentimentality ever did.
The story begins with Henry - an author who enjoyed great success with his first book about anthropomorphic animals - who is presenting the idea for his second book at a meeting with his publisher/editors and booksellers. He has spent 5 years writing a flip book about the Holocaust - one half of the book would be a non-fiction essay about incorporating the Holocaust into our narratives that we use for understanding the world. The other half of the book would be fiction - a novel that uses the story of the Holocaust without being historical fiction. His book his rejected, and dejected, he flees to another city where he practices the clarinet and acts in a local theater group.
Enter Henry - another Henry - who is struggling to finish his play and looks to Henry for help. This Henry is a eccentric, reclusive taxidermist who is writing a play about Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the howler monkey. Henry the taxidermist is writing the very kind of fiction that Henry the author was advocating. Can Henry help Henry finish his play? What is his play really about?
Beatrice and Virgil are watching the sun set over the fields.
Virgil: The stripes are glowing.
Beatrice: As bright as an aquarium at night.
Virgil: As bright as truth.
Virgil: (crestfallen, placing his hands on the sides of his face) How can there be anything beautiful after what we lived through? It's incomprehensible. It's an insult. (he stamps the ground with a foot.) Oh, Beatrice, how are we going to talk about what happened to us one day when it's over?
Beatrice: I don't know.
(Virgil begins to howl. The landscape and stage slowly fade to darkness as the sound of Virgil loudly expressing his outrage.)
A clever book that blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction and causes us to examine familiar ideas and events in new and surprising ways. Highly recommended!