Early in Beatrice and Virgil, Henry is excited about the book he's just finished writing. It's a book that's two books in a sense, a flip-book about the Holocaust; one part fiction and one part nonfiction. Henry believes that there's a lack of fiction about the Holocaust and that more stories about it will contribute to its preservation and meaning. Much to his dismay, though, his latest unpublished work is not well-received by his editors nor others, as he learns over a dinner of flavorless, over-refined foods in London.
Henry sets aside his book about the Holocaust and his writing career, and starts a new life in an unnamed city with his wife (who later becomes pregnant with their first child).
"During this time in the city, Henry's earlier existence as a writer was not entirely forgotten. Reminders gently knocked on the door of his consciousness in the form of letters. By the most roundabout routes, often months after their writers had posted them, he continued to receive letters from readers."
~Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel
Before too long, he receives a mysterious envelope that contains a short story by Gustave Flaubert, The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator, along with a request for help. The request is from a taxidermist, also named Henry, who is writing a play called Beatrice and Virgil. Henry is soon drawn into a relationship with the taxidermist, and a new adventure begins.
Henry's visits to Okapi Taxidermy discomfited him, and at times this book perplexed me as well. I know Life of Pi also contains animals, but I don't understand why the author used animals in this story to tackle such a difficult subject. The Holocaust was a human event. Although Beatrice and Virgil kept my attention, I did not "get" the book at times; it was hard for me to comprehend the connection between the Holocaust or the "Horrors" and two talking animals, the characters in the taxidermist's play.
Maybe this ambitious author was trying to do too much in his latest novel: discuss literature and the writing world, create Holocaust fiction, talk about taxidermy, present a play in the process of being penned, and anthropomorphize personable animals who philosophize. If you ask me, that's a lot to tackle in a single novella! The Holocaust in and of itself is a major theme. I felt confused at times during my reading because there was so much going on, on multiple levels, and I was left with a sensation that I was missing something.
Despite my issues with the book, though, Beatrice and Virgil grabbed my attention from the first page, and I read it eagerly and quickly. The author has written a creative and highly original story that refers to works of literature, and features the writing of a play and a final chapter that could never be described as run-of-the-mill. Yann Martel believes, like Henry-the-writer in the book, that the Holocaust deserves more attention and that fiction is a way to give it a fresh and memorable voice, and this is exactly what the author attempts to do.
Random House is generously offering one copy of the book as a giveaway to a reader (U.S. only this time--sorry!).
- To enter this giveaway for Beatrice and Virgil, simply leave a comment.
- For an extra chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
- For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
- For another chance, name a book about the Holocaust, either fiction or nonfiction, that has made an impact on you.
Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, March 14. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, March 15.
Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For other reviews please visit TLC's Beatrice and Virgil book tour.