Friday, October 15, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

I've found that Life of Pi, Martel's hugely successful earlier book, was the type of book that people either really liked, or they just despised it. I don't think I've ever heard anyone who read it describe it as "okay" or "just alright." Well, Martel has broken that single-book trend with Beatrice and Virgil.

It's the story of an author, Henry, who tries to follow-up his "hugely successful" previous book with a flip book (two books bound together, when you finish reading the first story, you flip the book over, rotate it 180 degrees, and there's a second story) containing two stories about the Holocaust. His publishers reject the idea and he becomes so disillusioned with the industry that he quits writing and moves to a new city to start a new life.

The tremendous success of his previous book has resulted in a steady stream of fan mail forwarded to him by his publisher. While going through a shipment of it, he discovers an intriguing play written about a donkey and monkey along with a note from its author asking him for his help. His interest in the play leads him to track down its author, and finds he's a taxodermist who believes that the steady decline in the world's animal population is itself, a type of holocaust.

After having really liked Life of Pi, it was disappointing just how far short of the quality of that book this one fell. The characters were shallow and flat, the dialogue was weak, and the story hinted throughout that it was going to go somewhere interesting, but then never delivered. It's redeeming quality is its originality. Because of that, I'd describe this one as either "okay" or "just alright."

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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