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Book Review: Beatrice and Virgil (Yann Martel)

Normally, I — in this case, portraying a critic – would proceed to try and convince you to read this or that book by using my own words of approval. But I, already too crummy at convincing people to do this or that, choose instead to quote the author’s own characters – two stuffed animals inside a taxidermist’s workshop – to show you my humble appreciation for Yann Martel’s newest novel, Beatrice and Virgil. It’s a harrowing, seeming un-adventure story that builds a slow, awkward tension much like in his previous novel, 2002 Man Booker Prize winner, Life of Pi.

Twisting, spiraling perhaps, to a startling and haunting surprise by story’s end, B&V is a philosophical and metaphorical work covering the topic of perhaps mankind’s worst moment, and reaches the near limit of utter human darkness.

Reading B&V, and knowing Martel’s earlier success with Pi, his newest novel, though fiction, seems part autobiography, part fiction, part history, part painting. Though it does not succeed on every level, I find it to be a most-creative attempt to make sense of the dark cruelty that mankind continually inflicts upon itself throughout history from one group to another, from one man to another. That said, I leave you with Martel’s own words via Beatrice, a donkey accompanying his monkey companion, Virgil, during their walking conversation.

Virgil: I was thinking about faith.

Beatrice: Were you?

Virgil: Faith is like being in the sun. When you are in the sun, can you avoid creating a shadow? Can you shake that area of darkness that clings to you, always shaped like, as if constantly to remind you of yourself? You can’t. This shadow is doubt. And it goes wherever you go as long as you stay in the sun. And who wouldn’t want to be in the sun?


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