Reading a novel by Yann Martel is a bit like taking a leap of faith – strange events and curious characters abound, and sometimes you’re not quite sure where you’re going…but if you trust the author, it can be exhilarating! I must confess I was a bit reluctant to read his Booker Prize winning first novel, Life of Pi – such odd subject matter! – but a friend insisted I did, and it became one of my favourite books.
So I was very keen to read his follow-up novel Beatrice and Virgil, and it doesn’t disappoint. It centres on Henry, a novelist whose second novel was a huge success, but whose third has been a disaster. He and his wife move cities and he immerses himself in another sort of life – working in a cafe, joining a theatre troupe, learning clarinet – and abandons writing. One day he receives a portion of a play in the mail and, intrigued, he seeks out it’s author, a dour taxidermist, also named Henry. The mysterious old man asks for Henry’s help to complete his play, about Beatrice and Virgil and their experiences in the “Horrors”. Henry feels his desire to write reawaken as he gets drawn into their story, even as it grows darker, and he begins to wonder about the taxidermist’s past.
With a very serious theme at it’s heart, the novel raises as many questions as it answers, but is always compelling. Written with signature stylistic flair and imaginative prose (I kept quoting bits to my friends!) Beatrice and Virgil is everything you’d expect from Yann Martel - clever, original, thought-provoking and moving. I know Yann Martel is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it! $32.95. Fiona