Tag Archives: Fave Reads

Review: Beatrice and Virgil

Beatrice and Virgil
Yann Martel
Random House
April 13, 2010
224pp

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.

Review: The Help

The Help
By Kathryn Stockett
Penguin Group (USA)
February 2009
464pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town  to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

The Short of It:

The Help is the kind of book that you make time for, no matter how busy your schedule.

The Rest of It:

I’ve seen The Help everywhere and although it’s gotten wonderful reviews, I held off on reading it. I don’t like to read books that are overly hyped. I’m usually disappointed by them. However, the hype hasn’t died down yet even after all these months,  so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did. Let me just say, that if you’ve been on the fence about reading it, get yourself a copy, find a cozy place to sit and dig in. It’s good.

As many of you know, the book is a work of fiction but it almost seems auto-biographical in nature. Skeeter is a young woman living in Mississippi. Most women her age focus on marriage and standing, but Skeeter is different. She wants to be a writer and after receiving some encouragement from a publishing house, she decides to write a book. A book about the help, literally. She decides to write a book about the black women of Jackson. The women that make a living taking care of other people’s children, cleaning other people’s houses, and putting up with all sorts of drama.

There’s so much to love about this book. Aibileen’s love for Mae Mobley, her young charge, is written so tenderly that your heart just aches when Stockett mentions them. Raising and loving another woman’s child, knowing full well that she could grow-up to treat blacks the very same way her mother does. Well, that just takes the air right out of my lungs.

Then there’s Minny, Aibileen’s best friend. Head-strong and difficult but so full of life. When Minny walks into a room, you pay attention. She’s quick to judge and has a sharp tongue, but there’s a gentle, vulnerable side to her too. I loved the interaction between her and her boss, Miss Celia.

Oh, and when Miss Skeeter has her”aha” moment, you just want to give her a big hug. Putting everything on the line for what she believes in. She’s not perfect. She has flaws but so does everyone. That’s the point. We are not meant to be perfect.

My only complaint with this book is that towards the end, the pace seemed to drop quite a bit. I suppose it was just me wanting to get to the end to find out how it all turned out, but it did seem to slow down quite a bit at one point. This is a tiny quibble given that the rest of the book is so wonderful. I really enjoyed it and feel like kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. It will definitely make my fave list this year and I can certainly see why book groups across the nation have embraced it.

For those that have read it, what did you think of the dialect? Not what I expected but it worked for me.

Also, I came across this interview with Katie Couric. I was surprised to see that Stockett is so soft-spoken. I don’t know why, but I imagined her to be a lot more aggressive and vocal. I also think it’s interesting that the book groups they feature in this clip are all white.

Source: I won this book in a contest.