Monday, July 26, 2010

Donkey Poo + Monkey Poo = Beatrice and Virgil

What I've come to understand since I started reading Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel, is that few books in recent years have been as polarizing as this one. The reviews I've read range from love to hate.

First off, this one is complicated. It's about a writer named Henry who flees into theater and music lessons after the failure of his second book. His editors pan it, it never sees the light of day, and he hides his head in the sand. He receives a letter from a local taxidermist claiming to need help on a project, and he gets embroiled in the life of the stuffer o'animals, also named Henry. The taxidermist's play is a Beckett-like story of a howler monkey named Virgil and a Donkey named Beatrice. They live in a violence-torn country which serves as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the Holocaust. Henry finds himself deeply involved with the taxidermist the more of the play he hears, and there are plenty of shadows in the taxidermist's life.

I really enjoyed the first half of this novel. The writing really is--dare I say it--lyrical at times. There's a lot to munch on if you're a fan of Postmodern literature. If you're not, you'll hate this book by default. Martel is obviously self-referential. The book parallels his own experience with a scrapped and revamped novel according to news reports during the years between Life of Pi and this book. There's also a good deal of intertextuality--references to works of literature from Flaubert to Beckett himself.

Where the novel falls apart is in Martel's obvious attempts to be clever and hiply Postmodern. There's a line between subtle and deft use of Postmodern conventions and a circus of showing off. The bottom line: the final half of this book was tiresome and left me wishing to hurry on up and pick up another book.

I'll take Paul Auster's self-referential, Postmodern writing over Martel's clunky execution any day of the week.

What the heck do I read now? Still trying to avoid a slump!

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