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Beatrice & Virgil

I loved Life of Pi, so I was all but terrified to pick up Yann Martel’s latest novel, Beatrice & Virgil. What if it was disappointing?

Well, the good news is that it is very, very well written. I’m just not sure how I feel about the story itself. The narrative turns on the question of how and why the Holocaust should be depicted in art, and how and why it can be used as a lens of analysis for other tragedies. Throw in a talking mounted donkey named Beatrice and a talking mounted monkey named Virgil and we’ve got ourselves a story!

The animals appear in a play written by one of the central characters. This man, a taxidermist by trade, writes Beckett-esque dialogues in which the donkey and monkey consider the essence of a pear, the uselessness of language, and the degree to which memory is vital.

The use of animals, the description of the pear, and countless phrases of Martel’s are simply breathtaking. When he describes a room as being “full of adjectives,” I just want to hug the book to my chest and let the beauty soak into me by osmosis.

But… like, the ending is terribly odd. The reveal is inelegant and the main character’s realizations don’t feel natural or follow an organic trajectory. There’s an episode of outright melodrama that seems entirely unnecessary.

This book hasn’t yet helped me answer its central question, which is one I’ve wondered about before. I don’t know what to think about it. But I may finally read Dante now.

(Cross-posted at Diet of Bookworms.)


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