Beatrice and Virgil
Back in college days, there were equal amounts of disgust and fascination I reserved exclusively for Life of Pi. Disgust, because everybody I knew who was a so-called ‘art-fart’ raved and ranted about the book which made me hate it. The fascination came from that curiosity that one associates with something one loathes without experiencing it: what is it that these people are going on and on about? And so, recently I decided to experience it. Yann Martel’s a true tale spinner, I give you that. So much so that when I discovered that Pi’s life was nothing but a fairytale, I felt an indelible sense of being cheated.
With Beatrice and Virgil, I was a little more prepared. Even then, I couldn’t help but get entangled in the web of mystery and emotions that Yann Martel spins. I mean, let’s face it, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a donkey and a monkey discussing the nuances of a Pear the way Newton and Einstein would debate physics?
Henry, the writer of Life of Pi (he writes under a pseudonym, you see), experiments with a form of writing/publishing that’s never been seen, or read, before. His choice of Holocaust as the subject bombs badly. To escape his sense of failed writer-ness, he moves cities with his wife. The only silver lining that remains is the fan mail – it never stops pouring in. On one such occasion, his interest is piqued by an envelope containing a copy of Gustav Flaubert’s work, a few sheets of conversation between Beatrice and Virgil discussing a pear, and a note that simply asks for his help.
The note leads him to Okapi Taxidermy, a store full of magnificent stuffed animals and secrets. Like an onion, layer after layer is peeled away as Henry’s visits to the store increase, until nothing but the deepest sense of confusion is left in Henry’s mind as much as in the reader’s. The end is such a terrific twist of events that one’s left breathless and shaking one’s head from side to side exclaiming, “Martel, you incredible genius, you!”
It’s a worthy read because it leaves you with many things. Mixed emotions being one. And Yann Martel’s incredible skill as a writer who can seamlessly weave a story within a story within a story being another.