Review: Beatrice and Virgil

Beatrice and Virgil
Yann Martel
Random House
April 13, 2010

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Fate takes many forms. . . .

When Henry receives a letter from an elderly taxidermist, it poses a puzzle that he cannot resist. As he is pulled further into the world of this strange and calculating man, Henry becomes increasingly involved with the lives of a donkey and a howler monkey—named Beatrice and Virgil—and the epic journey they undertake together.

With all the spirit and originality that made Life of Pi so beloved, this brilliant new novel takes the reader on a haunting odyssey. On the way Martel asks profound questions about life and art, truth and deception, responsibility and complicity.

The Short of It:

Innocent at first, Beatrice and Virgil leaves a dark smudge on a seemingly white page. It’s disturbing and odd and I have to say it…brilliant.

The Rest of It:

This book blew my mind.

Henry the writer, meets Henry the taxidermist but the taxidermist is also a writer and has written a play about a donkey named Beatrice. and a howler monkey named Virgil.  Beatrice and Virgil have long discussions about life, both the good and the bad but there’s a problem. The taxidermist needs the writer’s help in completing the play as the characters are not as fully fleshed out as they could be.

This passage appears on page 80 of the ARC that I have:

Henry: Off the top of my head, without any preparation or much thought, I’d say Virgil has the pleasing dimensions of a smaller dog, neither too bulky nor too slight. I’d say he has a handsome head, with a short snout, luminous reddish-brown eyes, small black ears, and a clear black face—actually, it’s not just black—a clear bluish-black face fringed with a full, elegant beard.

Taxidermist: Very good. Much better than what I have. Please continue.

The play continues to unfold in this manner. The taxidermist tosses out  a bit of info here and there and Henry the writer, takes it all in, provides help when he can and finds himself completely obsessed with the stuffed animals that this play centers around. Additionally, Henry the writer recently wrote a book of his own that bombed in a big way so helping in this manner is sort of like writing, but not.

I won’t say much more about the plot as you must experience it on your own, but it touches on the interaction between humans and animals, humans and other humans and the fact that evil comes in all forms. Once you figure out what is going on, and where the story is going, you continue to turn the pages with dread but somehow find yourself unable to stop. Martel dangles the carrot so to speak, and you can’t help but take a nibble.

I’d like to warn you that although this book is not overly graphic, it is disturbing and dark and will leave you feeling overwhelmed with emotion. After reading it, I immediately deemed it brilliant but then felt silly for saying so, as I’m not sure the author’s intent was to write something brilliant. I know that sounds odd because most writers probably strive to be brilliant, but it’s so subtle. Whether that was the intent or not, it WAS brilliant and odd and different from anything I’ve ever read. Beatrice and Virgil will be on my list of favorites for 2010.

Beatrice and Virgil officially comes out on April 13, 2010 but you can pre-order it now.

Source: This ARC was sent to me by Random House via Shelf Awareness.

27 thoughts on “Review: Beatrice and Virgil”

  1. I read Life of Pi when it first came out and just did not like that book at all, so I admit that I am a bit reluctant about this new book. However, after reading your review of it, I must say that I am rather intrigued. I loved the idea of both writers helping each other out and their interaction with each other and the animals. Sounds rather eclectic and well, I may just have to add this title to my TRB list. Thanks for the great post, Ti!

    1. I did not care for Life of Pi either. My book group chose it and I tried really hard to read it but I ended up giving up on it. I did not have that feeling at all with this book.

      1. So glad to read that I wasn’t the only who didn’t like Life of Pi. There was so much praise heaped on the book, that I thought I surely must have missed something. Of course I realized that I hadn’t, it just was not my cup of tea. 🙂

    1. I don’t think this is a book for everyone, but it has a message that everyone can benefit from. Julie, you may be rather shocked by it but after pondering it a bit, you’ll realize its importance.

  2. I thought The Life of Pi was brilliant and different – strangely, it stayed with me for a long time. It seems these days brilliance does come in the form of something completely unexpected. I absolutely cannot wait to read this…you’ve gotten me all revved up!

  3. It’s funny that you say you didn’t care for The Life of Pi, because your review sounded like it could also be a review of that one! …which for me, means that I can’t wait to read this one!

  4. It’s crazy that I have 2 copies of this on my shelf right now. I’m holding off reading it until it’s featured on That’s How I Blog a few months from now, but I’m REALLY excited to pick it up. Your review has me drooling w/ anticipation!

  5. It took me quite a while to get interested in Life of Pi (50-80 pages, as I recall), but once I was hooked, I couldn’t stop reading and wound up loving the book. This sounds a bit the same. An eclectic sort of novel. I wasn’t planning on reading it, simply because the description didn’t appeal to me, but maybe I should give it a try.

  6. Well, I’m curious! I have a copy of this and having never read the author’s previous book I was nervous. Your review definitely makes me want to give it a try.

  7. I’m sold on the book following your review. If there is a donkey, however, I’ll need to clear the book first with my pet mule.

  8. Although I have Life of Pi, I haven’t read it yet. I’ve heard so many contrasting opinions of it and I know I need to read if for myself. This new book sounds so intriguing and I LOVE your review of it. I’m putting it on my list based on your thoughtful comments. Thanks Ti!

  9. When I received a copy unexpectedly in the mail, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it. Well, your review changed my mind. I love dark books, and you said it’s brilliant, so…

    I can’t wait to find out what it’s really about. I hope it’s not over my head!


  10. I have an ARC copy and haven’t read it yet. I’ve not read Life of Pi. I’m not sure how I’ll like this but I’ll give it a try.

  11. I really like “Life of Pi” so I was excited to see he had another book out … and it sounds like he has hit another home run. Great review … I’m really excited!

  12. Your review makes this one sound promising, but it also sounds really odd (and dark), which is not usually my cup of tea. Since I really didn’t enjoy Pi, I’m still on the fence for this one!

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