Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book Review: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

As always, Reader Friends, I am terribly behind in posting.  I've spent a good portion of this week at the doctor, which you would think would mean lots of reading time, but actually does not, at least for me.  I can't read if I'm not comfortable.  I tend to just zone out in the waiting room and think about how very very bored I am and how much I hate the seats and how people in waiting rooms have serious personal space issues.  I'm not here because I have the flu, so please, keep your flu to the other side of the room.  Anyway, all of this to say that I've almost missed a lot of work, which means I am an entire week late posting my review of Beatrice and Virgil for TLC Book Tours (obviously keeping post dates on my work calendar is a bad idea).  Lisa at TLC and Yann Martel have my most sincere apologies, especially since I loved the book.

Cute cover, right?  I love what Yann Martel does with animals.  Yes, I am a huge animal lover, but I don't think you need to be to read and appreciate this book (or Life of Pi, which was equally amazing).  This is the story of a writer who becomes involved in helping a taxidermist write a play about two of his taxidermied animals - Beatrice (a donkey) and Virgil (a howler monkey).  I'm not going to lie, it's a very complicated book to summarize in a few sentences with no spoilers.  Besides being an engrossing story, it's also an amazing meditation on human character.

Absolutely beautiful. What really impressed me the most is the subtlety Martel uses in using a donkey and a monkey as a paralell to the life of the taxidermist and his experiences.  I LOVED that Martel never draws a solid line for us, but let's the reader make his or her own interpretations.  It's not that the book is vague or hard to understand, but one thing that really bothers me in books is when an author feels like they have to point out every metaphor, every comparison, every similarity.  It takes me out of the story and can even feel condescending.  I like the feeling that an author values my intelligence as reader enough to let me draw my own conclusions.  Plus the ending is fantastic, which is just as I expected after The Life of Pi, which is one of the best book endings I've ever read.

This is literary fiction - it's not popular fiction and the author does require the reader to draw a lot of his or her own conclusions.  There isn't a lot of action and I certainly wouldn't say it's a plot-driven novel.  It's so much more about the characters, who are amazing.  Seriously, how good does an author have to be to make a reader care deeply about a taxidermied donkey?  But I LOVE Beatrice.  And Virgil.  In my opinion, the entertainment value was excellent.  I was into the story, I cared about the characters, I stayed up late reading it.  I'm not sure that I'd recommend it to all of my friends because it is so deeply character-driven.  If you're wanting a lot of action, you don't necessarily get that until the end.  But the question of motivation, particular for the taxidermist, made the book hard for me to put down. 

Some sites you might want to check out:
Beatrice and Virgil homepage
TLC Tours page with links to other reviewers

Oh and I want to be sure that I note, I read this in hardback, but the paperback version was released on March 1st, so it's available in bookstores now!


  1. Wow. Best review I've read of this book, hands down! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Thank you so much for being on the tour.

  2. I'm glad I waited to read other reviews until I finished because (and I hate to even mention negative reviews of a book I enjoyed so much) so many reviewers felt like the the book was heavy-handed. It really surprised me because I was impressed throughout the entire book that Martel didn't make heavy-handed connections for the reader. It's one that I think may be easily swayed by other people's interpretations, but the joy for me was in interpreting it with no biases either way from previous reviews.