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Beatrice and Virgil : a novel /

When Henry receives a letter from an elderly taxidermist, it poses a puzzle that he cannot resist. As he is pulled further into the world of this strange and calculating man, Henry becomes increasingly involved with the lives of a donkey and a howler monkey--named Beatrice and Virgil--and the epic j...

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Main Author: Martel, Yann.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2010
Edition: 1st ed.
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Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Martel's mesmerizing Man Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi (2002) has become a cult classic, its richness of depth and meaning belying the startling basic story line of a young Indian man stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for 227 days. So it is with Martel's latest novel, also a fable-type story with iceberg-deep dimensions reaching far below the surface of its general premise. Henry, a young author, has written a book that has been successfully received, but the idea underpinning his follow-up work a combination of fiction and essays thematically linked by his concept that writers shy away from fictional depictions of the Holocaust in favor of strict documentation results in a manuscript deemed unacceptable by his publisher. Henry and his wife then flee their home country of Canada to live in one of those great cities of the world, which is never specified. One day Henry receives a packet of materials obviously sent by someone familiar with his once-celebrated status, and in tracking down the source of the packet, Henry encounters what will turn out to be a life-threatening acquaintance with a taxidermist, whose personality is as enigmatic as his stuffed creatures are haunting. Ultimately, Henry finds redemption in terms of his fiction writing but not before facing a leviathan-size example of the human capacity for inflicting cruelty, assuaging guilt, and engaging in creative deception.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Megaselling Life of Pi author Martel addresses, in this clunky metanarrative, the violent legacy of the 20th century with an alter ego: Henry L'Hote, an author with a very Martel-like CV who, after a massively successful first novel, gives up writing. Henry and his wife, Sarah, move to a big city ("Perhaps it was New York. Perhaps it was Paris. Perhaps it was Berlin"), where Henry finds satisfying work in a chocolateria and acting in an amateur theater troupe. All is well until he receives a package containing a short story by Flaubert and an excerpt from an unknown play. His curiosity about the sender leads him to a taxidermist named Henry who insists that Henry-the-author help him write a play about a monkey and a donkey. Henry-the-author is at first intrigued by sweet Beatrice, the donkey, and Virgil, her monkey companion, but the animals' increasing peril draws Henry into the taxidermist's brutally absurd world. Martel's aims are ambitious, but the prose is amateur and the characters thin, the coy self-referentiality grates, and the fable at the center of the novel is unbearably self-conscious. When Martel (rather energetically) tries to tug our heartstrings, we're likely to feel more manipulated than moved. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Whimsy takes a deadly serious turn in a novel that will enchant some readers and exasperate others. The Canadian author's previous novel (Life of Pi, 2001) won the Man Booker Prize, became a critically lauded bestseller and made legions of fans eager for a follow-up. Here it is, a meta-fictional shell game about a novelist who has experienced the same sort of success as Martel by writing a similar sort of animal-filled book, who attempts a follow-up (about the Holocaust) that mixes fact and fiction in a manner that advance readers find unsatisfying and who thus stops writing. His story reads something like a fable, since for the longest time the protagonist has only one name, Henry, and he and his wife move to a city that remains unidentified, though the narrative suggests it could be one of many. Instead of writing, Henry becomes involved with a chocolate shop and a theater troupe, and then he receives a package from a reader. The most accommodating bestselling author ever, Henry answers all his mail and goes to great lengths to track down the sender of this package, which contains a short story by Flaubert, a play with two charactersthe title characters of this noveland a plea for help. Henry's quest leads him to a mysterious taxidermist, also named Henry, whose shop seems to contain "all of creation stuffed into one large room," and who plies his trade in homage to Flaubert"to bear witness." Uh-oh, allegory alert! Like a Russian doll, the novel contains parables within parables, as the play's Beatrice and Virgil (from Dante, of course) turn out to be a donkey and a monkey, and their dialogue sounds like Aesop filtered through Samuel Beckett ("This road must lead somewhere"/ "Is it somewhere we want to be?"). Henry agrees to help with the play that has been the taxidermist's life's work, thus breaking the novelist's writer's block, though at a great price. As Henry asks Henry, "Symbolic of what?" Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.