Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel ****

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel a meta-novel about the Holocaust. It opens with author Henry's unmarketable concept for a flip book (a single binding containing two book with two front covers - this was popular in the days of pulp fiction, but now only survives for comic books) about the Holocaust. The volume would include a fiction book and a non-fiction book. In pitching this idea, Henry remarks on "how little actual fiction there was about the Holocaust."

Eventually Henry meets a taxidermist, also named Henry, who has written a play, also unmarketable, and also about the Holocaust. The two Henrys discuss writing and the Holocaust. The whole thing comes full circle, Beatrice and Virgil being fiction about the Holocaust and about the fictional pieces of fiction with the same subject and approach. Two fictional treatments and three non-fictional treatments, each inside each other.

In the non-fiction (essay) parts of Beatrice and Virgil, a question raised as whether the horror of the Holocaust can better be communicated by fiction or non-fiction: is the emotional impact of Schindler's List more or less than the impact of two talking animals - Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the monkey? Which form but communicates/invokes the Truth of the Holocaust. What do you think? Reporting or talking animals?

I don't know the answer, but I can tell you that, though at times uncomfortable, I sat through Schindler's List in its entirety. However, I was not able to read the full story of the talking animals, there were paragraphs and pages I found to be too much to even skim - I just jumped ahead.

Do not be fooled by the talking animals. This is a serious book about literature and its role in society. Not for the faint-hearted or lazy.

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