Monday, December 5, 2011

Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel

It's been more than a week since I read Beatrice and Virgil but the story haunts my thoughts. In spite of loving Yann Martel's Life of Pi, I had put off reading his most recent book because I knew it was about the Holocaust - always a heartbreaking subject - and because reviews have been mixed. Now, I'm very glad to have finally read it because it is brilliant. As well as being heartbreaking.

In Vancouver last year, I heard Martel explain why he chose to write about the Holocaust through fiction. He believes that it is through art that people can make sense of complex reality by comprehending it at an emotional and psychic level... or something like that. He said it more eloquently; he has a way with words.

In Beatrice and Virgil, autobiographical elements create an interesting tension regarding truth. How much is the writer Henry in the story like the author himself? Yet the writing style is fable-like, as when Henry and his wife move to a different city: "Perhaps it was New York. Perhaps it was Paris. Perhaps it was Berlin." And then there is the play within the novel, which is presented only in fragments. It is clearly an allegory and told as a conversation between close friends who happen to be a donkey and a howler monkey.

I look forward to discussing this short and powerful novel at the Woodcroft Branch Library CanLit Book Club. It's a drop-in event and everyone is welcome. These are the details: December 7, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. at 13420 114 Avenue in Edmonton. Call 780-496-1830 for more information.

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