April 30, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil - Yann Martel

I am one of those people who was really on the fence about Life of Pi (I loved the book right up until, but not including, the last chapter). I probably would have read Beatrice and Virgil eventually, but then my sister sent it to me for my birthday earlier this month, and it was bumped up to the top of my reading list.

I think that I liked this book. I found it quite engaging - as I read it over the course of this week, mainly in 30-60 minute chunks at bedtime, it was easy enough to pick up and put down with no problem remembering the story from night to night; but not so gripping that it kept me awake at night. That is, until last night when I was finishing the book.

I'm not going to reveal the plot, but I will say that there is a plot twist right close to the end that was as visceral as a punch in the stomach. In retrospect (hindsight being 20/20 and all), I should have seen it coming, but I didn't, and it kept me awake after finishing the book, reflecting on what had just happened.

Parts of it were a bit clunky - there are obvious parallels between the main character and the author; it was a bit slow to get going and to figure out where the story was going - but it was almost like a runaway train picking up momentum before crashing at the end of the line.

A lot of the promotion has been about the concept of a "flip-book". The main character is an author who can't get his latest book published because it is a flip-book with a novel beginning at one end and an essay at the other that meet in the middle; and apparently Yann Martel wanted to publish this as a flip book along with an essay on the holocaust. But then someone sensibly pointed out that including an essay would necessarily colour any reader's interpretation of the book. Though a lot has been made of this, I think that the whole thing was less relevant than the actual plot.

So as I said at the beginning, I think that I liked this book, but I'm going to need to take some time to digest what just happened. It is certainly a book that is going to stay with me for a while.


Teena in Toronto said...

We read "Life of Pi" in our book club a couple years ago. I hated it. Ha! In fact, I ended up having to get it on tape because I couldn't get through it. Not my kind of book.

Kate said...

Teena - this is a very different book from Life of Pi - much more thought-provoking - having had a few days to reflect now after finishing, I have decided that I really, really liked Beatrice and Virgil.

B.Kienapple said...

I also finished reading Beatrice & Virgil with the thought, "what just happened??" but in a less favorable way. It felt too mashed together for me and pretentious. However, some of the writing was quite well done. Ah. I dunno. I don't think I'll be reading Life of Pi now.