Beatrice and Virgil (Martel)

Book Reviews
Mr. Martel ’s new book, Beatrice and Virgil, unfortunately, is every bit as misconceived and offensive as his earlier book was fetching. It, too, features animals as central characters. It, too, involves a figure who in some respects resembles the author. It, too, is written in deceptively light, casual prose.... [H]is borrowings from...[Samuel] Beckett...serve no persuasive end. Rather they are another awkward element in this disappointing and often perverse novel.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


Martel’s latest novel demonstrates the same gift for vivid description and wholehearted feeling, but it’s a lot more resistant to summary.... He appears to want to embrace difficulty while retaining all the readers who loved the easy narrative of Life of Pi. Although his ambition is admirable, the literary complexity and the simplicity of feeling Martel is aiming for don’t comfortably mesh. Beatrice and Virgil has its rewards, but the frustrations are what stick in the mind.
Robert Hanks - New York Times Book Review


Beatrice and Virgil is so dull, so misguided, so pretentious that only the prospect of those millions of "Pi" fans could secure the interest of major publishers and a multimillion-dollar advance. This short tale runs into trouble almost from its first precious page with an autobiographical portrait of the thinly disguised author.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


Dark but divine.... This novel might just be a masterpiece about the Holocaust.... Martel brilliantly guides the reader from the too-sunny beginning into the terrifying darkness of the old man's shop and Europe's past. Everything comes into focus by the end, leaving the reader startled, astonished, and moved.
USA Today


Brilliant...with this short, crisply written, many-layered book, Martel has once again demonstrated that nothing tells the truth like fiction.... Another philosophical winner.
Cleveland Plain Dealer


Those spell-bound by Man Booker prize-winning Life of Pi will find much to love in Yann Martel’s new work of fiction.... In Beatrice and Virgil, Martel again evokes the power of allegory, this time to address the legacy of the Holocaust—as well as the pleasure of fairy tales. At the heart of this novel are questions about truth and illusion, responsibility and innocence, and Martel is able to employ Beatrice and Virgil as sympathetic, nuanced vehicles for his vision. Beatrice and Virgil is a thought-provoking delight.
Marie Claire


If Beatrice and Virgil were a piece of music, it would be an extended fugue, beginning so quietly as to be almost inaudible, and culminating in a moment of overwhelming noise followed by silence....There is indeed no exit from Beatrice and Virgil, not even when the book culminates in its final moment of overwhelming crescendo, as Martel’s characters find themselves trapped in an eruption of hell-like flames. Like the echoing themes of a fugue, all the components of the Martel’s novel fit tightly together, leading up to one ultimate moment of terror.
Harvard Crimson


Megaselling Life of Pi author Martel addresses, in this clunky metanarrative, the violent legacy of the 20th century with an alter ego: Henry L'Hôte, an author with a very Martel-like CV who, after a massively successful first novel, gives up writing. Henry and his wife, Sarah, move to a big city (“Perhaps it was New York. Perhaps it was Paris. Perhaps it was Berlin”), where Henry finds satisfying work in a chocolatería and acting in an amateur theater troupe. All is well until he receives a package containing a short story by Flaubert and an excerpt from an unknown play. His curiosity about the sender leads him to a taxidermist named Henry who insists that Henry-the-author help him write a play about a monkey and a donkey. Henry-the-author is at first intrigued by sweet Beatrice, the donkey, and Virgil, her monkey companion, but the animals' increasing peril draws Henry into the taxidermist's brutally absurd world. Martel's aims are ambitious, but the prose is amateur and the characters thin, the coy self-referentiality grates, and the fable at the center of the novel is unbearably self-conscious. When Martel (rather energetically) tries to tug our heartstrings, we're likely to feel more manipulated than moved.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Martel’s mesmerizing Man Booker Prize–winning Life of Pi (2002) has become a cult classic, its richness of depth and meaning belying the startling basic story line of a young Indian man stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for 227 days. So it is with Martel’s latest novel, also a fable-type story with iceberg-deep dimensions reaching far below the surface of its general premise. —Brad Hooper
Booklist


Whimsy takes a deadly serious turn in a novel that will enchant some readers and exasperate others. The Canadian author's previous novel (Life of Pi, 2001) won the Man Booker Prize, became a critically lauded bestseller and made legions of fans eager for a follow-up. Here it is, a meta-fictional shell game about a novelist who has experienced the same sort of success as Martel by writing a similar sort of animal-filled book, who attempts a follow-up (about the Holocaust) that mixes fact and fiction in a manner that advance readers find unsatisfying and who thus stops writing. His story reads something like a fable, since for the longest time the protagonist has only one name, Henry, and he and his wife move to a city that remains unidentified, though the narrative suggests it could be one of many. Instead of writing, Henry becomes involved with a chocolate shop and a theater troupe, and then he receives a package from a reader. The most accommodating bestselling author ever, Henry answers all his mail and goes to great lengths to track down the sender of this package, which contains a short story by Flaubert, a play with two characters-the title characters of this novel-and a plea for help. Henry's quest leads him to a mysterious taxidermist, also named Henry, whose shop seems to contain "all of creation stuffed into one large room," and who plies his trade in homage to Flaubert-"to bear witness." Uh-oh, allegory alert! Like a Russian doll, the novel contains parables within parables, as the play's Beatrice and Virgil (from Dante, of course) turn out to be a donkey and a monkey, and their dialogue sounds like Aesop filtered through Samuel Beckett ("This road must lead somewhere"/ "Is it somewhere we want to be?"). Henry agrees to help with the play that has been the taxidermist's life's work, thus breaking the novelist's writer's block, though at a great price. As Henry asks Henry, "Symbolic of what?"
Kirkus Reviews

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