Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel


If you think Life of Pi was a weird book, this book by the same author is even weirder.

This book, unlike many books, has no chapters. The whole book is just one long chapter. Thus, it was difficult for me to ‘break’ my reading.

This book tells of Henry, a writer who had published an award-winning book. He is now planning to publish his essays on the Holocaust and a fiction together in a ‘flip’ book, an idea he thought brilliant until it gets shot down by publishers and agents.

Dejected, he moves away. In the new city, he joins an amateur theatre group, his wife gets pregnant, they get a cat and a dog and live happily until he starts receiving strange letters and a script from play, from a ‘fan’ living in the same city. The sender requests his help. Curious he visits the address of the fan and meets his namesake, Henry, a taxidermist.

Taxidermy is the act of mounting or reproducing dead animals for display (e.g. as hunting trophies). Henry is fascinated by the array of strange animals, life-like under the dim lighting. The taxidermist recognizes Henry immediately. He starts sharing more of his play about two characters, Beatrice, a donkey, and Virgil, a monkey, both animals immobilized on display in the taxidermist’s eerie room.

And with that introduction, Henry, and the reader, is drawn into the play about these two animals. Henry, in his capacity as a professional writer, tries to guess what help the taxidermist needed from him. Is it writer’s block? Problems with the plot? For there is no plot as far as Henry could see, yet he is as attracted to the two characters as us, the readers. We, the readers, try to guess where exactly this book is leading, and are just as clueless as Henry. The taxidermist, a recluse who reveals nothing about himself in the meetings with Henry, exacts strange responses from the other people which Henry thought strange. The waiter at the cafe and Henry’s pregnant wife Sarah, reacted with repulsion at the taxidermist.

So, what is the help needed from Henry? The taxidermist wants his help with suggestions of games for Virgil and Beatrice to play with Gustav, a dead body they finds. Dead body, horrors, scenes of torture, a sewing kit of clues…

Henry realises too late what all this are leading to…

In order to avoid spoiler, I refrain from telling you the end. But this book is certainly thought-provoking, especially the games which and when Henry finally decides to finish them.

Like The Life of Pi, this book talks about many animals. In Pi, the animals are in the zoo in India. Here, the animals are also on display, just that they are dead and stuffed. There is an okapi (a short necked giraffe), an oryx (an antelope), a quagga (an extinct mammal), all of which I needed to check in the dictionary what they were.

One needs patience to read the book (it’s an easy read) mostly about Virgil and Beatrice, but the reward at the end should be worth the effort.

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About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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