Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Affecting. A bit mysterious. About animals. Naïve in style. It these ways, this is similar to Life of Pi, the author’s big selling and Booker Prize-winning novel of a few years’ ago. But if that sounds like an acquired taste, don’t let it put you off. This is a rather brilliant book, with a huge amount of meaning and emotion packed into fewer than 200 large-ish print pages. The narrator is a writer, who had a big hit and then struggles with his next book, which is about the Holocaust – echoes of Martel’s own experience, surely? The best thing about the book is the artless way in which a grim foreboding is created – a bit like those horror films where you just know that the appearance of the cute little girl holding a teddy is the precursor to horrible violence. The violence in this book is allusive rather than narrated. But the use of animals as proxies for humanity is incredibly moving, drawing as it does from the well of sympathy we have for them, our innocent and trusting charges. Which works powerfully in this book to make us think – hard – about how we can treat people like, well, animals.


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