Beatrice and Virgil (Martel)

Discussion Questions
1. What is Beatrice & Virgil about?

2. Discuss the main characters. What are Henry and the taxidermist like? How are they different from one another, and in what ways are they similar? What are Beatrice and Virgil like?

3. What do you think of Henry’s original idea for his book? Do you agree with him that the Holocaust needs to be remembered in different ways, beyond the confines of “historical realism”? Why, or why not?

4. What is the importance of self-reflexivity in the novel? For example, does Henry remind you of Yann Martel? How does Beatrice & Virgil relate to the book that Henry wanted to publish originally? Who writes the story?

5. How would you compare Beatrice & Virgil to Life of Pi? How do Yann Martel’s aims in the two novels differ, and how does he go about achieving them?

6. Close to the start of the book, Henry (the writer) says, “A book is a part of speech. At the heart of mine is an incredibly upsetting event that can survive only in dialogue” (p. 12). Why would this be the case? How does it influence the form of the book we are reading?

7. Describe the role Flaubert’s story “The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator” plays in the novel.

8. Why doesn’t the waiter at the cafe address the taxidermist?

9. How do you explain Henry’s wife’s reaction to the taxidermist and his workshop?

10. How do you feel about the play A 20th-Century Shirt? Could it be performed? Does it remind you of anything? What role does it play in the book?

11. Who are Beatrice and Virgil in literature? Which other books and writers do you find influencing this one, and with what effects?

12. What moral challenges does Beatrice & Virgil present the reader with? What does it leave you thinking about?

13. What are the different kinds of theatre, acting and performance in Beatrice & Virgil and what do they add to the book?

14. What is the significance of names in the novel, especially Henry’s full name?

15. How is writing like or unlike taxidermy in the book?

16. What role do Erasmus and Mendelssohn play in the novel, and why does it matter?

17. What is your favourite part of Beatrice & Virgil?

18. How do the two parts of the book relate? How do they connect to Henry’s original plan for his book? Or, to put it another way: why “Games for Gustav”?

19. What do Henry’s non-literary activities—music lessons, waiting tables—tell us about him as a character? What else do they add to the book?

20. How is Henry changed by the events of the novel? How does this relate to Beatrice and Virgil having “no reason to change” (p. 151) over the course of their play?

21. Beatrice & Virgil stresses compound words, new words, overvalued words, words that are “cold, muddy toads trying to understand sprites dancing in a field” (p. 88)—what are some of the key words in the book, and how are words important as a theme in the novel?

22. How do Henry and Henry help each other write?

23. What is the significance of 68 Nowolipki Street?

24. Does Beatrice & Virgil itself aim to “make the Holocaust portable” for modern memory? Does it succeed in doing so? How does the book’s ending change things?

25. What is the significance of the word “Aukitz” in the novel, and in the book design?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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