Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Review: Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel

In Beatrice and Virgil author, Yann Martel, introduces the reader to a writer who has become famous for a novel that is about animals but finds producing his follow-up book too much of a challenge for him, particularly as his plans are for a novel that takes an original perspective on the holocaust. After rejection from his publisher Henry decides to move his family to another city for a fresh start and it is there that, as unlikely as it may seem, he meets another writer who is struggling to write his own allegorical representation of the holocaust using animals in the form of a play.

I am a great fan of Yann Martel's most famous book, The Life of Pi, so with that in mind I was looking forward to enjoying another piece of masterful storytelling from this author, particularly given the original and unlikely premise; unfortunately I read Beatrice and Virgil instead.

This book starts off as an easy read, exploring the writing career of Henry, setting his back story but this takes far too much of what is a very short book and part the way through this section one begins to tire of a highly narrative and, in fact, immature writing style - it reminded me of the sort of dross I would produce when I was at school. As the reader progresses the hope is that there is some highly profound message later on to make up for this. There is not.

Henry meets a struggling play writer and attempts to help finish the script, which then condemns the reader to  dealing with many pages written in play form, with moribund dialogue that one can hardly be bothered to read and allegories so esoteric that the author must explain what they mean lest the reader be left in the dark.

This novel does make readers turn the pages, partly because they want to discover what will happen and that there must be some kind of twist in the end, partly because they want to skip the boring play dialogue. It is perhaps ironic that in this book there are two authors who try to represent the Holocaust in an original way and fail, because this author does exactly the same.

I would not recommend this book to anybody other than those who are attempting to write their own books and are tempted to try and be more intellectual than they need to be by introducing pointless allegories that do not contribute to the story at all, so that they can see how not to write. More than anything this book is just boring. Read The Life of Pi instead, it is wonderful, but leave this alone.

Score: 1/10

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