Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

1. First lines 2. Publisher: Text Publishing 3. Taxidermist’s window at night, Get Stuffed, Essex Road, Islington, London, UK.2. By Corey Doctorow via flickr.  Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0 4.Auschwitz outerwear. By Takkk. Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Henry the writer has difficulty writing about the Holocaust. Henry (another writer) has difficulty writing about the Holocaust. This reader has difficulty making sense of a book about two writers having difficulty writing about the Holocaust. Did Yann Martel intend the reader to feel this way because the Holocaust is a difficult subject to think/talk/write about?  For me, a difficult book.

Quotes from the book:

  • “As for fame, fame felt like nothing. Fame was not a sensation like love or hunger or loneliness, welling from within and invisible to the naked eye. It was rather entirely external, coming from within the minds of others. It existed in the way people looked at him or behaved towards him. In that, being famous was no different from being gay, or Jewish, or from a visible minority: you are who you are, and then people project onto you some notion they have.”
  • “There are animal characters – a monkey and a donkey – they live on this very large shirt. It’s all quite fanciful, yet there are elements that remind me, well, remind me of the Holocaust.”
  • “My story has no story. It rests on the fact of murder.”
  • “Virgil: How can there be anything beautiful after what we’ve been through? It’s an insult. (He stamps the ground with a foot.) Oh, Beatrice, how are we going to talk about what happened to us one day when it’s over?”

Plot summary:

Henry, a successful novelist is so disappointed when his third book is rejected that he moves to an unnamed city to start a new life. Here he meets a taxidermist, also named Henry, who asks for help with the play he is writing. The play is about Beatrice (a donkey), and Virgil (a monkey) who live on a striped shirt (symbolism here), and have conversations related to events concerning the Holocaust.


Other editions:

Penguin Random House (Imprint: Spiegel & Grau);     Penguin Random House Canada;     Canongate Books

Beatrice_and_Virgil_ReadingGroupNotes; Excerpt online: Penguin Random House Canada;  Author’s website


Reviews:

  • Beatrice and Virgil seems, despite its evidently large ambitions, strangely trivial and narcissistic: a book that ends up thinking about neither Jews nor animals, but using the extermination of both to think about, of all things, writer’s block.” Full review: The Guardian
  • “Our view is that Beatrice and Virgil is a beautifully written, unconventional and intriguing book that should be read and discussed broadly. It would be a real shame for readers to summarily dismiss this book because it disappointed a few critics.” Full review: Huffington Post

Awards:


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