Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beatrice & Virgil: "What She Read" Review

Get it from Amazon or indiebound!
Almost a week later, I'm still pondering the ending of Beatrice and Virgil, the most recent novel by Life of Pi author Yann Martel. For Pi alums, that won't entirely surprise you.  To me, a book that grabs you on the first page, keeps you moving steadily and with increasing intensity, shocks and surprises and offers you intriguing glimpses into an array of human endeavors, and then leaves you rather gratified yet stunned and moved at the end:  All that rolled into one spells one fine book.

Here, Martel returns to his explorations of inter-textuality and of our human drive to recreate our messy lives in somewhat tidier or at least more fathomable stories.  And again we begin in one fictional reality and then journey with his central character, in this case a writer named Henry who echoes Martel himself, into an allegorical world of uncertainty, challenge, wry humor, and even violence, and finally return to a reality parallel to our own to reflect on the horrors that leach into our workaday lives no matter how carefully we strive to deflect them.

And it will come as no surprise that in his attempt to bring renewed immediacy to literature of the Holocaust, Martel reaches back to the Absurdists to frame some of his allegorical commentary.

For a surprisingly fine illustrated review of Beatrice and Virgil
click this link: B & V Illustrated Review.
The world within a world here is not a high-seas adventure as in Life of Pi, but rather a Beckettian play starring a donkey and a howler monkey within the frame of a writer's attempt to recreate his life in a foreign city when his writing career stalls.  The questions Martel explores with us include a Life of Pi-esque focus on  the cruelty of humans toward not only their own species but toward all other animals as well. 

Yet what makes all the difference here is protagonist Henry's central question:  How might one write about the Holocaust in a manner that offers the philosophical & historical depth of an essay and the freshness of narrative fiction?  Beatrice and Virgil acts as a vehicle to explore this question, and although certainly we see some comparable concerns and devices to those in Life of Pi, neither the intention nor the result is in any way similar.

When it was first released, some critics railed at the very thought of a non-Jew writing a book attempting - in any way - to address the Holocaust.  If you are willing to move beyond that concern to embrace a novel that respects its content utterly but takes a unique tack in attempting to make us re-see an everpresent and understandably oft-treated topic, then you would do well to set aside a few hours for Beatrice and Virgil.  In my estimation, better to stretch toward greatness on a challenging subject than to set one's writerly sights low and create a neatly constructed but depthless work.  After all, "more 'fail better'" (MFB) is my What She Read motto.

In truth, saying any more than this would spoil your potential experience of Beatrice and Virgil, and I want you to read it.

MFB,
L

Change-The-World ActionAttend a local amateur theater production and/or link my first ActionReaders Challenge & Book Giveaway to an animal-elevating charity.  I welcome suggestions for organizations and will set up the challenge for the beta launch of my new ActionReaders.com website in May.

Transform-My-Life Action: 
Redouble my efforts to meditate on the wellbeing of all species - spirit loves variety after all - and to notice and offer active positive regard to every human and non-human being I encounter in the next month.  Long-term goal: to develop this as a habit of mindfulness.

1 comment:

mel u said...

I liked Life of Pi a lot-I have been 50/50 on his last book but I think your post pushes it onto my TBR list-thanks for sharing

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