Apparently all my plans for reading are doomed. Once again, I found myself reading a book not on my list and choosing to finish the new book instead of one of the millions I’ve already started. But I don’t feel as guilty this time, because the book was short and a very quick read. Plus it was the first time I had read anything on an e-book! My review of the e-book experience (it was much better than I was expecting!) to follow later today.

 

Beatrice and Virgil

 

I always planned to read Life of Pi, the book that got me interested in Yann Martel and has been on my TBR list for ever, but ended up reading Beatrice and Virgil first because it was already loaded on the e-book and I liked the title. While I usually won’t judge a book by its cover (I’m not an artists so I don’t like to dismiss other people’s lack of talent too), I do judge books by their title. A bad title won’t convince me to get any further than the cover page. I have already talked on this blog about how much I loved Dante’s Inferno, so I was already a fan of this book because the title is two of the characters from the Divine Comedy. A great title, one that intrigues readers and makes them want more, will always get me!

Beatrice and Virgil follows the life of Henry, an author whose first book was extremely successful but who now cannot find a market for his second novel. He wanted to approach the Holocaust from a new perspective, but was told that people are not ready for fiction about such a horrible event. After being turned down by editors, Henry and his wife move abroad and start a new life free from writing. Yet even in his new home in a new country Henry cannot fully escape from the world of writing when a fan mails him a play and asks for help.  Drawn in by the small scene he receives, which hints at the new approach to the Holocaust he himself had tried, Henry’s life changes when he makes this new friend, who owns a taxidermist shop, and finally begins to explore his own relationship with writing and fame.

There is also a “book within a book” element in Beatrice and Virgil, as almost the entire play written by the fan is included. This play, called A 20th-Century Shirt, is about a howler monkey named Virgil and a donkey named Beatrice. The play in the book is similar to Samuel Becket’s play Waiting for Godot, but not always in a positive way. Yet I almost preferred the play, and the donkey and monkey characters, to the human characters in the book!

Beatrice and Virgil was a quick read, but the book addressed many important questions. Martel doesn’t shy away from the horror and terror of the Holocaust, or people’s fascination with death. Many scenes take place in the taxidermist shop, and those places really creep me out, but since that was kind of the point of the setting I think it was very successful. This book was a great read and one I would highly recommend to all my friends.

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