e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “Beatrice and Virgil”

An oblique look at fear and suffering

Just finished reading Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel.

Having loved The Life of Pi, I was expecting to be excited and stimulated, but, for me, this book didn’t quite “take off” in the same way.

Which isn’t to say it’s not beautifully written and very original. It is. I just felt it lacks the poetry of Pi and the interior life of the main character. The latter probably has to do with the fact that Henry, the protagonist of Beatrice and Virgil, is not isolated and interacts with a number of other people; so we see his character in conversation and action rather than in thought.

The story is simple. The use of the story-within-a-story technique spins it out and allows the characters to comment in ways they wouldn’t in a straightforward telling. But it also slows it down. Until about half-way through I found the lack of action annoying and kept wondering if I’d finish the book. But gradually it hooked me and I’m glad I gave it the chance.

It deals with huge issues: relations between humans and animals, affection and friendship, fear, pain, suffering and forgiveness among them. Instead of full-on discussion these themes edge sideways into partial view. The reader is allowed to share Henry’s puzzlement over what it all means.

I’m still not sure why it harks back so strongly to Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, but it forced me to reconsider that play, which I studied many years ago and thought I understood.


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