This is Yann Martel’s first novel since the phenomenally successful Life of Pi won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 2001. Anyone expecting a sequel to that wonderful book is likely to be disappointed. Life of Pi was a book in a million, and it’s unfair to expect an author to repeat a performance like that. In hindsight, I’ve come to realise that Beatrice and Virgil is an excellent novel in its own right, and deserves to be read, perhaps with no prior knowledge of Life of Pi.
The story is about an author, Henry, whose literary successes seem to mirror that of Martel: he has written a million-copy bestseller and is now trying to get to grips with a new project. And then, one day, he receives a strange bit of fan mail. Instead of the usual letter of praise, he finds that someone has sent him an excerpt from a short story by Gustav Flaubert. There is also a draft of a play: it only has two characters in it, Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the howler monkey.
Intrigued, he decides to find out more and contacts the person who sent him the envelope. It turns out that his name is also Henry, although he is a taxidermist and is writing the play about Beatrice and Virgil in order to try and deal with his personal demons. Henry the author is drawn more and more into his world as he seeks to understand the story behind the play, even to the point where it becomes dangerous for him. It’s quite a short read, but probably a work of genius.
by: Calvin Scholtz, Wordsworth Longbeach