Beatrice & Virgil by Yann MartelBeatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel

Beatrice & Virgil

byYann Martel

Hardcover | December 19, 2011

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Henry’s second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name, had done well.
 
Yann Martel’s astonishing new novel begins with a successful writer attempting to publish his latest book, made up of a novel and an essay. Henry plans for it to be a “flip book” that the reader can start at either end, reading the novel or the essay first, because both pieces are equally concerned with representations of the Holocaust. His aim is to give the most horrifying of tragedies “a new choice of stories,” in order that it be remembered anew and in more than one way.
 
But no one is sympathetic to his provocative idea. What is your book about? his editor repeatedly asks. Should it be placed in the fiction section of a bookstore or with the non-fiction books? a bookseller asks. And where will the barcode go? To them, Henry’s book is an unpublishable disaster. Faced with severe and categorical rejection, Henry gives up hope. He abandons writing, moves with his wife to a foreign city, joins a community theatre, becomes a waiter in a chocolatería. But then he receives a package containing a scene from a play, photocopies from a short story by Flaubert – about a man who hunts animals down relentlessly – and a short note: “I need your help.”
 
Intrigued, Henry tracks down his correspondent, and finds himself in a strange part of the city, walking past a stuffed okapi into a taxidermist’s workshop. The taxidermist – also named Henry – says he has been working on his play, A 20th-Century Shirt, for most of his life, but now he needs Henry’s help to describe his characters: the play’s protagonists are a stuffed donkey and a howler monkey named Beatrice and Virgil, respectively, and Henry’s successful book was in part about animals. He wants help to finish his play and, we may suspect, free himself from it. And though his new acquaintance is austere, abrupt and almost unearthly, Henry the writer is drawn more and more deeply into Henry the taxidermist’s uncompromising world.
 
The same goes for the reader. The more we read of the play within the novel, the more we find out about the lives of Beatrice and Virgil – in a series of initially funny, and then increasingly harrowing dialogues – the more troubling their story becomes. As we are drawn deeper into their disturbing moral fable, the relationship between the two faltering writers named Henry becomes more and more complex until it can only be resolved in an explosive, unexpected catastrophe.
 
Though Beatrice & Virgil is initially as wry and engaging as anything Yann Martel has written, this book gradually grows into something more, a shattering and ultimately transfixing work that asks searching questions about the nature of our understanding of history, the meaning of suffering and the value of art. Together it is a pioneeringly original and profoundly moving accomplishment, one that meets Kafka’s description of what a book should be: the axe for the frozen sea within us.
The award-winning author of four previous books, the most recent of which is What Is Stephen Harper Reading?, Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963. He studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs - tree planter, dishwasher, security guard - and travelled widely before turning to writing. He was awarded the Journey Prize ...
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Title:Beatrice & VirgilFormat:HardcoverProduct dimensions:224 pages, 8.56 × 5.73 × 0.9 inShipping dimensions:8.56 × 5.73 × 0.9 inPublished:December 19, 2011Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307398773

ISBN - 13:9780307398772

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from A haunting tale How do you talk about the horrors after they are over? That is the question at the core of this enigmatic story. An allegory about the Holocaust, Beatrice and Virgil are animals. Stuffed by a taxidermist. The final section, Games for Gustav, is memorable in a way words can't quite describe. The taxidermist asks our narrator to give him help with the games, and in the end gets his way. There is a lot of symbolism in this story, that I will need to ponder and process. There is mystery here. But it is also a very powerful, intense story. Not long, but worthwhile for the thoughtfully inclined.
Date published: 2014-04-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Beatrice & Virgil Full of twist. Fun read
Date published: 2014-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beatrice and Virgil I really enjoyed this book. It was weird (as I have come to expect from Yann Martel), but it is also a book that keeps you on your toes and thinking about what you have read long after you have finished. I don't want to spoil anything by talking about it, but I would recommend picking it up for sure!
Date published: 2012-06-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pity that it's not my favourite from Yann Martel "Beatrice & Virgil" is a heavy read. On the cover (both literal and literary) there are Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the howler monkey, expressive, lively and full of ideas and energy; behind, there looms the dark and gloomy sadness of tragedy. A story that forces us to see the holocaust and its unspeakable cruelty direct in the eyes. It's a pity to say that this is not one of my favourites from Yann Martel. The storytelling is indirect, but not subtle. And at time too dense and confusing. But I have to give it that, the ending is one of impact.
Date published: 2011-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Art Imitates Life Yann Martel has taken the sophmore jinx tiger by the tale (sic) and followed up his popular, award winning novel Life of Pi with a multi-layered masterpiece. The book is unconventional in its structure (starting with the dual sided cover, reflecting the duality of fact and fiction), and tells a very simple story, albeit one with multiple threads (for movie buffs, a bit like Tarantino’s movie Pulp Fiction, but without the violence). Parallels with the author’s own life are evident from the start, with the protagonist - an author - trying to follow up his immensely popular earlier novel with an unconventionally structured (and dual covered) book about the Holocaust. The parallels then start layering, like Russian nesting dolls. The author (the one in the book) receives a cryptic message asking for help from another author - a playwright, actually - with the same first name, Henry, and the dayjob of taxidermist. The taxidermist requests Henry’s help finishing his play, which is about two stuffed animals, a donkey (Beatrice) and a howler monkey (Virgil). Beatrice and Virgil’s dialogue in the play is very plain, about mundane topics such as the nature of a pear. Their dialogue, much like in Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, is about much more than the apparent topic, referencing past literature and reflecting the authors’ relationship with each other. As the book unfolds, the various parallels become more evident, and the book finishes by tying the various threads together in a natural, tight conclusion. The writing is, of course, much richer than this simple plot summary can convey, and readers will appreciate Yartel’s clever execution. I found myself smiling numerous times throughout the story. The self-referencial nature of the book has many antecedents, from Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy to Hunter S. Thompson’s many works, and although some may find the structure a bit precious, Martel pulls it off very well. A thoroughly enjoyable, quick read, that will leave you wanting to discuss it over pi (sic).
Date published: 2011-04-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not My Cup of Tea Yann Martel takes his reader on a potent journey into the world of evil. His novel is totally unconventional, separated in two parts, one an essay the other a fairy-tale, both trying to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and the effect on its survivors and the perpetrators. The main character Henry , a novelist, likes to use animals with human characteristics to tell his stories. But when he attempts to write about the Holocaust in that fashion, Henry hits a wall, publishers slam the door on him. About to give up his career in writing, Henry receives a manuscript of a strange play, written by a taxidermist also named Henry. The play is about a pair of suffering animals, a donkey and a monkey named Beatrice and Virgil and it is staged using a giant striped shirt as background. The dialogue between the two animals reflects their feelings and the horrors they have suffered under the Nazi regime. Luckily this is a short novel, less than 200 pages. It tends to bog down with indefinite details around the two Henrys and the fine art of taxidermy, creating too many rambling, disjointed and boring moments. The author appears to have used his background in philosophy to relate his story through the eyes of two charming and articulate animals. I found it took till the end for the story to jell and for me to piece together what the author wanted to convey. The last pages consist of moral fables posing as questions about how one would react when faced with life changing decisions…. I found this novel to have been too profound for my taste….
Date published: 2010-09-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Better than Pi I may be one of the few who read this one before Life of Pi. I tried to read Life of Pi a few times over the past few years, and couldn't quite get into it before giving up. I did not know what Beatrice and Virgil was about before starting it, but really liked this book and the way the writer built up to the ultimate peak of the plot. The last few pages, really after the end of the story, still haunt me. After finishing, I was determined to read Life of Pi as so many people noted it was better than Beatrice and Virgil. I got through the whole book this time, and liked it, but still am not sure why it was so special to so many people. It was good, but in my opinion, B&V was much better.
Date published: 2010-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Animals & Allegory As with his previous work, "Life of Pi", Yann Martel incorporates animals and allegory into his work. While I only came to appreciate "Life of Pi" after finishing the book and reflecting more about it, "Beatrice & Virgil" was a more straightforward kind of novel, something I could easily tell whether I would enjoy the book or not. Fortunately, I did. As a plus, Martel uses an interesting technique of organizing and unfolding his story. It starts of with an author, Henry, with writer's block - semi-autobiographical perhaps? He has a novel idea for his new book about the Holocaust but it falls to pieces. He wanders through life for a while until he meets a taxidermist, also named Henry, who slowly relates the play he had been working on to the author. As such, a good portion of the book reveals the play, a dialogue between a donkey and a howler monkey, conversing about the simplest topic or the hardest truth. Beautifully written and described, it emotes the sadness, the fear, the horror, and the occasional bliss Beatrice and Virgil feel. Towards the end, I felt Martel took a cheap shot in trying to recreate the surprise and suspense as in "Life of Pi", but that did tie into the what "Beatrice & Virgil" was about. Games for Gustav, the last few pages of thirteen Holocaust-themed questions posed to the reader that followed the narrative, could have been a discussion on its own. Having read "Beatrice & Virgil" as a book club pick, we were all in agreement with the importance and the difficulty in answering each of them, and that no one answer stands as the only correct one. Read it as a fable or read it for more, even if you didn't like "Life of Pi", give this a go. And if you have and want more, check out the book's website for the bits of trivia and add-ons.
Date published: 2010-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dark and Brilliant ! I really enjoyed reading this sort of oddball of a story. Martel has a way with words. I was curious to know more about this mysterious taxidermist and his stuffed animals which he composed a play about, Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the monkey, and their harrowing journey. The questions Martel asks really make you stop and think. This book exceeded my expectations. Worth the read !
Date published: 2010-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dare I say better than Pi? I can understand why some people don't like this story; it's dark, it's moody, it's offbeat. But if you've read it, or at least part of it, you cannot deny it is beautifully written and extremely well thought-out. Martel has such a way with words and it makes reading his fiction (and non-fiction) a breeze. For example, when describing the languages Henry can speak, Martel writes, "Which is to say, stab his heart and it would bleed French, slice his brain open and its convolutions would be lined with English and German, and touch his hands and they would feel Spanish" (p. 23). If that doesn't make you just weep and wish you had written those words yourself, I don't know what could. Excellent writing, excellent plot, excellent expression.
Date published: 2010-07-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A terrible book enough said above
Date published: 2010-06-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Stop comparing to Pi! Beatrice & Virgil is not as enjoyable a read as Life of Pi, and I think that's where some are finding the trouble with this novel. Here's a news flash for you, it's NOT Life of Pi! It's a totally different book! If Martel were to only publish books that were copies of his bestseller, I wouldn't think much of his creative talents and readers would be bored pretty quickly! Get over it and move on to new experiences! I did enjoy Beatrice and Virgil overall. There were a few times I almost gave up, getting bogged down in slow dialogue and superfluous descriptions. But I'm glad I finished, it gave me lots to ponder. Anyone could see the comparisons to the Holocaust, so I'm not sure why the ending was such a surprise to some readers! Games for Gustav sums up the Horrors perfectly, and are gut wrenching to actually consider. But I'm pretty sure that's the point!
Date published: 2010-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Powerful Read A powerful Holocoust love story, with the main characters a donkey named Beatrice and a Howler Monkey named Virgil. The main character is a man named Henry who wrote one book succesfully and failed when he attempted to write another. When a fan sends him a piece of a play they were working on and pleads for help, Henry is compeled to seek them out and aid in whatever way he can. Turns out the fan is a taxidermist, and the play is about Beatrice and Virgil. Henry befriends the taxidermist, and gets much more than he bargained for. The scenes in the taxidermist shop were a little drawn out, as there were a lot of animals in that store and they had to be examined in explicit detail, but it was still wonderfully detailed and written. There is not much else to say except I cannot stress enough how powerful and moving this book is, especially when Beatrice is taken captive and tourtured, or the end when everything comes together and all you can really say is "oh my god". Loved it.
Date published: 2010-05-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Meets the target of "Profoundly Distressing" I loved the Life of Pi, so like other readers, ran and bought this new book as soon as I heard it was out, put aside my stack of books to read next and delved into beatrice & virgil. I found it very disturbing and disjointed. Did love the pear dialogue, but not much else. Yes, it definitely does cause a knot in your stomach and make you feel sick, which is often the case with holocaust stories. Yes, as the beginning of the book states, the story is profoundly distressing and does flip you upside down!! If i was rating it for shock value, it would get 5 leafs. Did not meet my expectations after the Life of Pi.
Date published: 2010-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A New Favorite What an amazing book! WOW! Read it in a day (a busy day at that). Could not put this book down. Martel has managed to write a book about a familiar, very often written about topic, in a very interesting clever way. Yes the book is disturbing, sad, and thought provoking...but so was/is The Holocaust! Some readers have complained about the book's upsetting story and descriptive nature. Again...so was/is The Holocaust. Books about horrors, "unthinkable & unnamable" acts, are often either enjoyed by those who live in reality and who appricate the fact that these acts did happen and need to be addressed, or they are hated by those individuals who fancy a Fairy Tale ending and who live in a sugar coated society. The fact of the matter is The Holocaust is real, war, hunger, poverty, and other such misery are real and need to be addressed. Mind you, The Holocaust was "man made" so to speak. This is an amazing book. Tugs at every heart string. Its raw, human, and unforgettable. When you find yourself thinking about a book over & over again, talking about it to friends/family/co-workers, you KNOW its a gem and because of the impression it has left on you, you know it is a great read. Enjoy
Date published: 2010-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful, haunting and touching Yann Martel really pulls through with his intricately woven, self-reflexive third novel, Beatrice & Virgil. Exceedingly well-crafted and though-provoking, this novel is poignant, powerful and horrific. In spite of being all these things, it is also quite beautiful. By far the best new novels I have read in ages!
Date published: 2010-05-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was so excited to hear that Yann Martel had a new book out - I loved Life of Pi and his wonderful writing style and I bought the book the day it came out. It was easy to get into but I found it very plodding and the characters unlikeable. I kept wondering why Henry was so driven to help this ungrateful "creepy" taxidermist? The dialogue between Beatrice and Virgil went on for far too long. The ending was so disturbing that I couldn't sleep, and I felt like it came out of nowhere and was not connected to the story. There were moments when I saw the genius of Yann Martel, such as the intricate descriptions of the animals in the taximdermy shop, but it wasn't enough to make me like this book, I'm sorry to say.
Date published: 2010-04-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from It turned my stomagh!!! I know I am alone on this one, but I almost did not finish this book. I loved the dialogue beween Virgil and Beatrice. Everything else was creapy and disturbing. I have just finished the book and I still feel nauseous. I am not recommending this book because of how upset it made me feel. Great reviews on the book and maybe someone with a better stomagh can read the whole thing and enjoy it. Wasn't for me. Sorry.
Date published: 2010-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Disturbing, Bizarre, Brilliant As I began this short novel I thought, what is this? No real plot, some very intriguing descriptions about a flipbook and a pear, and two authors both named Henry, both writing about the same subject. Before beginning Beatrice and Virgil I knew it was a work of fiction about the holocaust and I was interested to see how the holocaust was going to emerge out of a story about a donkey and a howler monkey. Emerge it did! Full of symbolism and allegoric meanings. This book can be interpreted in so many ways that no two people will read it and reap the same understanding from its words. There are so many phrases that stuck with me. In regards to the elaborate description of a pear, he says "time eats everything" and phrases like, "he's a howler monkey in a world that does not like howler monkeys". Once the generations affected by the holocaust die off, will anyone remember the horror? I think Martel's ultimate goal was to keep the holocaust alive, to keep people talking about it, to keep it off the back burner where it is forgotten. Even critical discussion is still discussion, and Martel is taking that risk. As Beatrice says to Virgil "How are we going to talk about what happened to us?" Virgil answers, "That's if we survive." You will either hate or love this book. You may find it boring or enveloping. You may be offended or think it's brilliant. I fall into the latter group. At times, especially towards the end, it is very graphic, dark and hard to get through, but hey, we are discussing the holocaust! This small book packs a huge punch that will stay with me for a long time. Whether you like Beatrice and Virgil or not, it's worth a shot, if only to discover its affect on you. As for the narrator Mark Bramhall, bravo! He did a wonderful job at depicting all the characters, he brought them to life.
Date published: 2010-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely beautiful! Books like Beatrice and Virgil (and Life of Pi) are the reason I became a bookseller. This novel is absolutely beautiful and even though the characters are unlikely, you fall completely in love with them. I recommend this book to everyone who comes into the store because it is flawless!
Date published: 2010-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Astounding! Meet Beatrice and Virgil - they inhabit that interstisial place between dreams and memory. They explore a landscape that we innately know, yet is foreign to our eyes. Martel sets up time, place and theory in such a way that I was completely unprepared for the ending. It resonates on many levels. I am finally able to finish reading "Life of Pi" !
Date published: 2010-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Haunting - Buy This Book! Yann Martel has a unique story telling style that makes you think about a book long after you've finished reading it. I loved Life of Pi and read an advanced reading copy of Beatrice & Virgil in two sittings. I was almost late for work, but couldn't put it down! Great for book clubs and my guess is that this will be an award winner.
Date published: 2010-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must Read I was not a big fan of "Life of Pi" but this book blew me away. I coudn't put it down nor could I forget it even after I've finishing reading it.
Date published: 2010-02-09

Read from the Book

(Virgil and Beatrice are sitting at the foot of the tree.They are looking out blankly.Silence.) VIRGIL: What I’d give for a pear. BEATRICE: A pear? VIRGIL: Yes. A ripe and juicy one. (Pause.) BEATRICE: I’ve never had a pear. VIRGIL: What? BEATRICE: In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever set eyes on one. VIRGIL: How is that possible? It’s a common fruit. BEATRICE: My parents were always eating apples and carrots. Iguess they didn’t like pears. VIRGIL: But pears are so good! I bet you there’s a pear treeright around here. (He looks about.) …  BEATRICE: What does a pear taste like? VIRGIL: Wait. You must smell it first. A ripe pear breathes afragrance that is watery and subtle, its power lyingin the lightness of its impression upon the olfactorysense. Can you imagine the smell of nutmeg orcinnamon? BEATRICE: I can. VIRGIL: The smell of a ripe pear has the same effect on themind as these aromatic spices. The mind is arrested,spellbound, and a thousand and one memories andassociations are thrown up as the mind burrows deepto understand the allure of this beguiling smell—which it never comes to understand, by the way. BEATRICE: But how does it taste? I can’t wait any longer. VIRGIL: A ripe pear overflows with sweet juiciness. BEATRICE: Oh, that sounds good. VIRGIL: Slice a pear and you will find that its flesh isincandescent white. It glows with inner light. Thosewho carry a knife and a pear are never afraid of thedark. BEATRICE: I must have one. VIRGIL: The texture of a pear, its consistency, is yet anotherdifficult matter to put into words. Some pears are alittle crunchy. BEATRICE: Like an apple? VIRGIL: No, not at all like an apple! An apple resists beingeaten. An apple is not eaten, it is conquered. Thecrunchiness of a pear is far more appealing. It isgiving and fragile. To eat a pear is akin to . . .kissing. BEATRICE: Oh, my. It sounds so good. VIRGIL: The flesh of a pear can be slightly gritty. And yet itmelts in the mouth. BEATRICE: Is such a thing possible? VIRGIL: With every pear. And that is only the look, the feel,the smell, the texture. I have not even told you ofthe taste. BEATRICE: My God! VIRGIL: The taste of a good pear is such that when you eatone, when your teeth sink into the bliss of one, itbecomes a wholly engrossing activity. You want todo nothing else but eat your pear. You would rathersit than stand. You would rather be alone than incompany. You would rather have silence than music.All your senses but taste fall inactive. You seenothing, you hear nothing, you feel nothing—oronly as it helps you to appreciate the divine taste ofyour pear. BEATRICE: But what does it actually taste like? VIRGIL: A pear tastes like, it tastes like . . . (He struggles. Hegives up with a shrug.) I don’t know. I can’t put it intowords. A pear tastes like itself. BEATRICE: (sadly) I wish you had a pear. VIRGIL: And if I had one, I would give it to you. (Silence.)

Bookclub Guide

1. What is Beatrice & Virgil about?2. Why do you think Martel decided to name both of his characters "Henry"?3. Discuss the characters of Beatrice and Virgil. Why might Martel have chosen them to be a donkey and a howler monkey, and why might he have chosen to name these characters after Dante's guides through heaven and purgatory?4. 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?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). What does this mean? How does his comment inform the book we are reading?7. Describe the role Flaubert's story "The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator" plays in the novel.8. How do you explain Henry's wife's reaction to the taxidermist and his workshop?9. How do you feel about the play "A 20th-Century Shirt"? Could it be performed? What role does it play in the book?10. What moral challenges does Beatrice & Virgil present the reader with? What does it leave you thinking about?11. How is writing like or unlike taxidermy in the book?12. What role do Erasmus and Mendelssohn play in the novel?13. What is the significance of 68 Nowolipki Street?14. 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?

Editorial Reviews

INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER #1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER A Financial Times Best BookFinalist – Saskatchewan Book Awards Fiction AwardFinalist – Saskatchewan Book Awards Saskatoon Book Award "Brilliant. . . . The subject of Beatrice & Virgil is not just one boy’s improbable adventure, but the very real horror of the Holocaust, and the difficulty of doing it justice in telling it. Martel works not at two levels, but several. . . . Be assured that with this short, crisply written, many-layered book, Martel has once again demonstrated that nothing tells the truth like fiction." — The Plain Dealer"Ruptures the division between worlds real and imagined, forcing us to reconsider how we think of documentary writing. Forget what this book is ‘about’: Yann Martel’s new novel not only opens us to the emotional and psychological truths of fiction, but also provides keys to open its fictions ourselves, and to become, in some way, active participants in their creation." — The Globe and Mail"A chilling addition to the literature about the horrors most of us cannot imagine, and will stir its readers to think about the depths of depravity to which humanity can sink and the amplitude of our capacity to survive." — The Huffington Post "Dark but divine. . . . Martel knows exactly what he’s doing in this lean little allegory about a talking donkey and monkey. This novel just might be a masterpiece about the Holocaust. . . . Somehow 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"The very idea that we think that we have heard the story enough is perhaps a sign that we have not. . . . [R]ead Yann Martel’s Beatrice & Virgil. You will be glad that you did, and you may find yourself seeing your life and the world, both fictional and otherwise, in a different light." — About.com "Martel’s prose is artfully simple and clear. . . . Those who enjoyed the cerebral aspects of Life of Pi will find things to admire." — Winnipeg Free Press