Life of Pi deserved all the praise it got, as it was a smashing wee book, but Yann Martel’s highly awaited follow-up Beatrice and Virgil isn’t as impressive.
The story begins with a famous writer called Henry who has recently struggled to finish his latest offering – a flipbook about the holocaust. After a meeting, Henry realises it’s best to bin the book.
Henry then moves to an unnamed city. A letter from an old taxidermist, living in the same city, intrigues him. It contains part of his play about a talking donkey called Beatrice and a monkey called Virgil who live on a striped shirt. The animals discuss things in a Beckett like dialogue from pears to something that happened which they call the horrors. The deeper Henry gets drawn into their world, the more suspicious he becomes that the play is actually about the holocaust.
Henry’s wife describes the taxidermist’s play as, “Winnie the Pooh meets the holocaust.” And she’s not far off what Martel has created – an awkward mixture that any writer would struggle to blend.
There’s a twist near the end as with Life of Pi. Sometimes a good ending can save a bad book but Beatrice and Virgil unfortunately didn’t have a good ending.