Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
Published by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

Henry found huge success with his first novel, and now, years later, he is having difficulty getting his publisher on board with his second novel. When a fan writes to him asking for assistance with his/her own writing, Henry decides to just visit this person at their place of work. This fan turns out also to be named Henry, is a taxidermist, and he asks Henry (the writer) for help with a play he’s writing. The play stars Beatrice and Virgil, a monkey and a donkey, and Henry soon becomes entranced by their story.

After loving Life of Pi when I read it years ago, I’ve been looking forward to reading Martel’s next novel, but when Beatrice and Virgil came out it received very mixed reviews from bloggers I quite respect. I put off reading it for a long time because I feared that I would be disappointed by it, but I knew eventually I would get to it so when the ladies atย TLC Book Tours offered me a spot on this tour, I couldn’t pass it up.

Am I glad I read Beatrice and Virgil? Absolutely yes. Did I enjoy the novel? Honestly, I’m not sure. There were many aspects of the novel that enthralled me, but other things just made me angry. Allow me to begin with the positives.

First, the writing. Yann Martel definitely knows what he’s doing when it comes to putting together a sentence. As was the case with Life of Pi, I found myself captivated by loooong paragraphs just because of the beauty of how he wrote said paragraphs. The characters in this novel could have been talking about the most mundane topics (and at times, they were) yet I was still interested and engrossed because of the writing. For me, this is big.

Henry (the writer) I liked immediately. I actually loved the first half of the book because I sort of adored Henry. He is charming, in an awkward way, and loves his family so very much (he has a wife and daughter who are extremely minor characters in the novel), and I admired how he was willing to write a book that was so outside the box that nobody would publish it, even though he was incredibly talented and renowned.

I also liked the way the book was structured, with the story-within-a-story thing. Well, really it was a play that was within the story, but it was very effective. I was engrossed in the story of Beatrice and Virgil (the play) just as I was engrossed in the novel itself.

But here’s the tricky part, because the ending pretty much ruined the entire book for me. And now, a few days after finishing the book, I can look back and realize that the majority of the book was extremely good, and the writing was beautiful, and yes I liked it for the most part. But when I finished the book, I was so angry and hated the ending so much that I honestly thought I would write an extremely negative review. Now that it’s been a few days I can truthfully say that overall I enjoyed the book. But the ending? Horrible. And also, I hate when animals suffer unnecessary violence and/or death in books, so I’m mad at Yann Martel for that too.

So, overall, I loved the concept of Beatrice and Virgil and, for the most part, I was happy with the execution of it too. But there were a few things that really did not sit well with me and because of that I can’t wholeheartedly say I loved the book. I didn’t love it, I appreciated it, but with reservations. Still, I would recommend it because the writing is gorgeous and the concept is very interesting and creative. Just be prepared for Martel to shock you and possibly create anger too. A book that can create so many emotions in the reader, however, is always a good one to read and discuss. So read it, discuss, and tell me what you think!

19 thoughts on “Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel”

  1. Hmmm. I loved, loved, loved Life of Pi and really want to read this book, but like you I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for it. I’m glad to hear the most of the book is beautiful but don’t know if I can handle reading a whole book knowing the ending is going to ruin it for me.

    1. If you loved Life of Pi (as I did) I would definitely recommend reading this one. Even though it’s far from perfect, the writing alone makes it worth the read.

  2. This one’s up next for me. I had put it off for the same reasons you did, but also jumped on board for the tour because I had to see for myself what it was all about. Good to know going in that the ending may anger me; I’ll be prepared. But now I’m really looking forward to getting to it!

  3. I really really liked Life of Pi but the mixed reviews about this one have made me hesitant to pick it up because I’m afraid of not loving it. Someday I’ll give it a try…

  4. Wow. Thank you for being so fair and honest and balanced with your review. Because it sounds like it could have gone the other way!! I’m sorry you found the ending so horrible but glad that after thinking about it for a while you were able to appreciate the good things as well. Thank you so much for being on the tour, Heather!

    1. You’re so welcome, Lisa! I do always try to be as honest as possible and unfortunately sometimes that means being less than positive about every aspect of a book. But this one was a winner overall, and I’m really glad to have finally read it! Thanks again for giving me a spot on the tour!

  5. Have you read Self? I loved the stories-within-a-story in that one too. And I liked the first part of Life of Pi better than the last half. I’ve put off reading B&V not because of the reviews but because I find the author so irritating in interviews (which I realize makes no sense, but there it is).

    1. I have not read Self, actually, but now I want to! Thanks for the recommendation. And I’ve never read an interview with Martel so perhaps I should just avoid them. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. After reading negative reviews from several bloggers who I respect too, I put this one down as a no-go for me. But now, after reading your thoughtful review I’m wondering if I’m missing on a chance for some serious reflection and to experience this horrible ending for myself??? What shall I do???

  7. This seems to have worked a little better for you than it did for me. I was horribly disappointed! Felt like Martel had a vision for a book that he lacked the motivation to properly execute. You write a fair, balanced review here. Wish that I could have done the same.

    1. I can see what you mean, Frances. I think he did execute the novel well, but probably his vision for it was different from what I would have wanted him to do, if that makes any sense. But I’m still mad at him for the ending.

  8. The ending seems to have divided people so much, and I’m wondering if I’ve done myself a disservice by finding out what it was in advance. Ordinarily I am a dedicated end-reader, but Life of Pi is one of the very, very few books where I’ve ever been glad not to have read the end. Maybe Beatrice & Virgil would have been the same.

    1. You read the end first?! You crazy girl! I remember you saying that you’re an end-reader but I honestly do not get that! LOL – I couldn’t imagine knowing what was going to happen before it did. So what did reading the end first do for you in this case? Did you end up liking the book?

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