Friday, December 24, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel opens with a line "Henry's second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name had done well". The prophecy, in the terms of sales receipts and author advance, may hold true for the author of the celebrated, award winning Life of Pi. But in this review, we'll examine if this novella would enter a reader's world as "had done well" and since the author banks on our familiarity with Life of Pi, we'll like to know if both books can be placed on the same bookshelf? To read every book as a stand alone piece of work is always my attempt as a reader. The pleasure in reading multiple books from great writers lies in the possibility of entering a different world through every successive novel. The great pleasure in writing lies in chartering characters and casting scenes that live on the page irrespective of what you had created once or will create later in life. Yet in equal measure, we love books when they evoke or stir emotion and intellect through images and words. Yann Martel has skills with words, many pages reaffirm his ability in weaving pretty sentences, but as far as the story goes, Martel fails to deliver a masterpiece expected from his desk. 

Life of Pi is a delightful read, as the voyage of a boy with three animals, including a tiger, presents endless situations and scenes that surprise, scare, excite, amuse, educate us. Animals play an important part in Beatrice and Virgil as well, but the mere presence of animals in a story does not always make the allegories effective. In search for a story that would be as gripping as his former novel, Yann Martel wanders into a taxidermist's shop, and creates a feature full of stuffed animals and stinted humans. The holocaust angle in the story is perhaps the weakest plot device used by the author, for it leaves the reader dissatisfied with the whole series of events and dialogues chartered in the book. In the first chapter, the author shows the protagonist (who is an author too) grappling with the idea of writing about holocaust "in a non-literal and compact way." Later, when publishers wish to know what the book is all about, the protagonist says: "My book is about representations of the Holocaust. The event is gone; we are left with stories about it. My book is about a new choice of stories." Perhaps Martel's protagonist expresses the author's own intentions quite well, and while one cannot doubt the intentions of the novelist here, the final piece lacks the harmony and humanity he wished to capture and portray. Martel within the novel as well as as an author raises the expectations that he fails to meet! Sorry Yann, I will quote by paraphrasing from your book again: "as it stands now the novel lacks drive and unity."

1 comment:

Frangipan said...

Beautifully written review!