Tag Archives: Fiction

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 & Book Tour: If You Follow Me

If You Follow Me
By Malena Watrous
HarperCollins Publishers
March 2010
384pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Hoping to outpace her grief in the wake of her father’s suicide, Marina has come to the small, rural Japanese town of Shika to teach English for a year. But in Japan, as she soon discovers, you can never really throw away your past . . . or anything else, for that matter.

If You Follow Me is at once a fish-out-of-water tale, a dark comedy of manners, and a strange kind of love story. Alive with vibrant and unforgettable characters—from an ambitious town matchmaker to a high school student-cum-rap artist wannabe with an addiction to self-tanning lotion—it guides readers over cultural bridges even as it celebrates the awkward, unlikely triumph of the human spirit.

The Short of It:

Reading If You Follow Me, is like taking a cool sip of water on a hot summer’s day. It’s refreshing and bold and filled with vivid, colorful characters.

The Rest of It:

I was rather surprised by this one. I expected it to be a “fish out of water” story, and to a degree, it is but there’s much more to it than you would expect. It’s light and airy in one sense, but it deals with some heavier themes and Watrous manages to take all of these elements and roll them into a nice little package.

Marina is an American who is hired to teach English in the small, Japanese town of Shika. She, along with her girlfriend, Carolyn, inhabit a tiny apartment and run into all sorts of colorful neighbors. Neighbors that constantly sift through her trash and complain to her supervisor, Hiro, also known as Miyoshi-sensei, about her constant rudeness.

Through letters, Hiro teaches Marina about the finer points of living in a small, Japanese town. These letters are peppered throughout the novel and are quite funny.

Here’s an example:

Now I prepare this sheet so you can learn target Japanese words and gomi law in one simple occasion. I hope it’s so convenient for you. It’s kind of so rude if you “can’t remember” about gomi law. Your neighbors feel some stress about you, and they must be so busy. They can’t talk to you every time you make a gomi mistake. I think they want to know you so much. First learn gomi law, second Japanese language, and third you can enjoy international friendship. This is like holding hands across the sea!

There are many humorous moments within this novel which sort of lighten it up a bit, but at the core, Marina is struggling to deal with her father’s suicide and the feeling that perhaps she could have prevented it. The guilt that she has over the incident is a constant presence throughout the novel. It sits quietly in the background as she tries to sort through the life that she has chosen for herself.

Her interactions with others are almost in slow motion. She sort of drifts through her days going from classroom to classroom and is often in denial when it comes to the current state of things. Marina is a strong woman though, and when she feels the need to act, she does and you end up in her corner, cheering her on.

I can’t say enough about the characters. They’re all quirky and different and although some of them are only referred to in a line or two, you still get a feeling for who they are. Watrous has a knack for carving out the essence of a character without weighing them down with a lot of background info.

There’s so much here to like. If you enjoy quirky, fun novels that have a bit of substance to them, you will enjoy If You Follow Me.

To visit Malena Watrous’ website, click here.

To visit her on Facebook, click here.

Malena will be interviewed for Book Club Girl’s Blog Talk Radio show on April 6th. For more information, click here.

To view Ms. Watrous’ other TLC tour stops, click here.

Source: A big ‘thank you’ to TLC Book Tours for asking me to be a part of this tour and for providing me with a review copy of the book.