beatrice & virgil

beatrice & virgil by Yann Martel (2010).  Toronto:  Random House, 197 pgs + appendix.  Hard cover, ISBN # 978-0-307-39877-2.

I finished reading Yann Martel’s beatrice & virgil last night and I’ve been thinking about it most of today.  I read it through once only.  I found some of the descriptions difficult to deal with – graphic and ugly and so like I would imagine the atrocities of the Holocaust.  But I would prefer not to think about them.  And perhaps that is the point of the novel.  We should not forget the things that people do in the name of – in the name of??  I can’t fathom why people do some of the things they do.

Henry is asked on page 15, “What’s your book about?” and that seems to continue to be a question that is difficult to answer.  On one level Martel’s story is about a novelist named Henry who meets a taxidermist also named Henry who is writing a play and needs help.  But it’s also about so many other things:  the Holocaust, representation, memory, trauma, writing as a form of therapy?, madness, the fact that people are animals, filling a gap in the literary record.  It is a story about a historical event – historical fiction, if you will, but different.  It is not only about the event itself, it is also about the effect of the event on one individual and those who came into contact with him.  Or is it?

It is post modern in form.  Martel is writing “a flip book” , but not in the sense that it is described by the narrator, in the sense that it turns in upon itself.  It is a book about writing.  The writing within it is about a horrific event and it ends with a horrific event.  But does it end?

Henry, the taxidermist seemed to be re-living his trauma through his writing but also appears to be a perpetrator of the violence.  Or is he?

Sometimes I wonder if Martel’s intention wasn’t perhaps that Henry, the taxidermist, isn’t really a representation of the mind of Henry, the writer.

It is a book I will likely return to because of it’s play with form – no chapters – one continuous story about … so many things.


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