Why Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil is the Worst Book of the Decade

There comes a rare time — perhaps once every ten or fifteen years — when you read a book with such dreadful syntax, without even a fiber of merit, so libertine in the manner it insults the audience, and so producing the literary equivalent to being completely submerged into a vat of shit, that the reader, having embarked on the fetid journey, begins to pine for a brutal throng of vigilantes to chop off the author’s hands and prevent the hopeless hack from ever holding a pen or setting foot near a laptop again.

Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil is such a tome. And Martel himself is such an author. Yes, last year, I spoke considerable ill of Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones. But while Mr. Littell is a dreadful writer, I did not harbor retributive fantasies. I merely screamed out in pain and spent most of the day on the floor. Mr. Martel, however, is an altogether different specimen. Here we have a man who has written a book that is more crudely formed than a schoolboy’s primer, that contains a moral vision less sophisticated than the dribbling one might encounter from a human vegetable. And Beatrice and Virgil deserves to be severely reviled because this book, which should not have even been permitted even the fourth-class method of self-publication, earned its bumpkin author a six figure sum through indolence and incompetence. When I finished reading this book, I threw it with such force against the wall that a hairline crack formed in the plaster. And even if you have the basest literary taste (no judgment from me, I assure you), that is the kind of thing that this book will do to you. This book will fill you with such vileness that you will find yourself instantly ruminating about what an AK-47 might be able to do when fired in the right direction. And I contend that when an author conjures up such violent fantasies, he should hang up his hat and call it quits for good. Even when he has won, as Mr. Martel has, the Booker Prize.

I realize that this post contains strong sentiments. Some of my professional peers have egged me on to write this post. At first, I vacillated. But when I saw nearly every other critic cowering away from the necessary truth, I realized that their comparatively gentle arguments could not convey how terrible this book is. With some reluctance on my part, force become necessary. And I started reading the book again (yes, I read this disgraceful offal to the end: as compact as this fucking book is, reading it is akin to walking the Bataan Death March). I made it to about Page 40 before I howled out for a distant relative to hold me.

But all that is mere invective. Let’s be reasonable. This book should never have been written for the following reasons:

1. A Terrible Protagonist. The book asks us to sympathize with a douchebag named Henry, whose only real character traits are that he has written a successful book and that he is revered by his readers. Tough life, this Henry. He has money to travel around the world and, presumably, we’re supposed to relate to him because of his writer’s block. But Henry, far from being a man of action (or even inaction), is prone to interior thoughts that convey contradictions. Late in the book, “Henry had the sense the waiter was about to talk to the taxidermist, but changed his mind and walked away instead.” (128) Well, that’s just fucking great. Having “a sense” of something tells you absolutely nothing about Henry or the the waiter. But it does tell you everything you need to know about what a shitty writer Martel is. I mean, here’s Martel’s opportunity to convey some aspect of humanity and we get third-hand speculation. Not speculation on what’s going on within Henry’s head, but on something that might be going on in somebody else’s head. Now if Martel were making a grand statement on artifice — like Gilbert Sorrentino’s Mulligan’s Stew, in which characters await directions from a writer, or William Gaddis’s A Frolic of His Own, in which suffering through a very long legal brief is part of the reading experience — then I’d applaud him. But as the book reveals, with its conclusive Games for Gustav, Martel has nothing here but the contractual obligation to hit 200 pages.

2. Overwriting to Expand Word Count: The book is barely 200 pages with its text stretched nearly to large print. And to push his novel into “novel-length” size, Martel has overwritten passages:

The book Henry wrote was in two parts, and he intended them to be published in what the publishing trade calls a flip book: that is, a book with two sets of distinct pages that are attached to a common spine upside-down and back-to-back to each other. If you flick your thumb through a flip book, the pages, halfway along, will appear upside down, will appear upside down. A head-to-tails flip of the conjoined book will bring you to its fraternal twin. Hence the name flip book.

First of all, just about any reader knows what a flip book is. And even if the reader doesn’t know, he can always look it up. But the agonizing description for a commonplace object, written as if the reader is a total idiot, doesn’t contribute anything vital to the narrative (or Henry’s consciousness). But let’s say that we don’t know what a flip book is. Martel has described precisely what a flip book is, yet two pages later, he writes, “Last, there was the detail that a flip book has two front covers.” Uh, what part of “upside-down and back-to-back to each other” did we not understand before?

The whole fucking book carries on like this. The book’s first line tells us that Henry has written a second novel and then, four pages later, reminds us that Henry had “in fact written two books.” Martel, with typical arrogance, believes that the reader suffers from a severe amnesia. The book then conveys, shortly after the above quoted passage, an equally childish description of why bookstores and libraries are bifurcated into fiction and nonfiction sections, merely stating that “[t]radition holds that the two must be kept apart,” before launching into a worthless conceptual thrust about how to fuse fiction and nonfiction.

This “forgetfulness” continues throughout the book.

(a) “It involved five years of thinking, researching, writing, and rewriting.” (6)
“Henry had written his novel and essay. Five years of hard work it had taken him.” (11)

(b) The telegraphing of one single action six times (!) within the same paragraph (18-19): Henry “stamped the ground with all his might.” Then: “the impact of his foot-stamping was thunderous.” Then: “a couple lying nearby turned his way because of it.” Then: “The ground had trembled.” Then: “He felt the reverberations.” Then: “The earth itself had heard him, he thought.”

(c) “The archetypal document on the event was the survivor’s memoir, Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man, for instance.” (9)
“Primo Levi, Anne Frank and all the others have done it well and for all time.” (19)

(d) “In Canada, where Henry was from” (18)
“his being the son of roving Canadian foreign service officers” (24)

(e) “Soon he would reel off standard responses…” (29)
“Henry often used the same light-hearted example in his replies.” (30)

3. Nonsensical Riffing: The book relies on boneheaded free association that doesn’t make any fucking sense. Some examples:

(a) Henry, despite being a successful writer, confuses a wedding party with a firing squad. There is utterly no way that even the biggest schmuck in the world can confuse a rifle with a wedding cake. And Martel, of course, doesn’t offer any specific detail that might support his crazy idea.

(b) Henry is asked whether his book should be stocked in the fiction or nonfiction section. He responds, “Ideally both.”

(c) Later, in another city, Henry works at The Chocolate Road and becomes a small shareholder, even though he cannot work in the country legally. Being remunerated in shares is still compensation. And the immigration forces would likely look into this.

4. Dissonant Repetition. Martel has this extremely annoying tendency to repeat nouns for a belabored “poetic” effect.

“It was the bookseller, an American bookseller in London…” (12)

“They settled in one of those great cities of the world that is a world unto itself…” (21)

“Many letters contained questions. A reader had a question, or two, or three.” (28)

“it was fresh to every reader who read it and that freshness came through in their letters” (29)

“…they were wild animals, which he attempted to portray with exact behavioural accuracy, and wild animals kill and are killed in a routine way.” (35)

5. Redundant Description: Editorial absenteeism is quite evident with the needless and often redundant details.

(a) “Henry tore a piece of bread and furiously swiped at a tapenade made of olives that came from an exclusive grove of six trees in a remote corner of Sicily.” (14) I might be able to pardon this sentence somewhat if it had stopped at “grove.” But the little detail about Sicily serves no purpose and steers us away from the initial action.

(b) “When at last lunch ended and he was released…” (17) If the lunch has ended, then he’ll have been released. There is no need to be redundant.

(c) “A moment came when the tense muscles twitching inside Henry’s body and the emotions seething inside him came together and spoke in unison…” (18) We already know muscles and emotions “came together.” There is no need for the “in unison” redundancy.

(d) “The Chocolate Road was primarily a fair-trade cocoa cooperative that produced and retailed chocolate in all its forms, from white to milk to dark, in various degrees of purity and in a wide range of flavours, in bars, boxes, and hot-chocolate powders, in addition to cocoa powder and chips for baking.” (25) If we’ve already described the degrees of purity, is it necessary to mention the colors? If we’ve already described “chocolate in all its forms,” is it necessary to bring up the “cocoa powder and chips for baking” later?

(e) “Some of those who wrote to him must have felt they were writing a message in a bottle and tossing it into the ocean.” (27) Rewrite: “Some wrote, feeling as if they were tossing a bottled message into the ocean.”

(f) “Henry pulled off the paper clip that held the story together…” (32) Well, let’s see, what other purpose would the paper clip serve? A nose picker?

6. Imprecise Description.

(a) “He stared at the white tablecloth, red-faced and at a loss of words.” (17) So the tablecloth is the one blushing here?

(b) “They settled in one of those great cities of the world that is a world unto itself, a storied metropolis where all kinds of people find themselves and lose themselves. Perhaps it was New York. Perhaps it was Paris. Perhaps it was Berlin. To that city Henry and Sarah moved because they wanted to live to its pulse for a time.” (21) This passage has the rare distinction of being both imprecise and overwritten. Martel can’t just write that Henry and Sarah moved to an unnamed city, which would have been precise. He feels this damning need to offer the triplet of “Perhaps” sentences, when we already know that the couple has moved to an unnamed great city.

7. Lazy Exposition.

(a) On p. 18, we learn that Sarah, Henry’s wife, is at work when Henry leaves a voicemail for her Later, we get this:

Henry returned to Canada and convinced Sarah they needed a break and a change of scenery. The lure of adventure won her over. In short order, she quit her job, they filled out papers, packed up their things and moved abroad. (21)

In other words, Sarah is merely a cardboard cutout who serves Henry’s rudimentary narrative actions. What’s her job? We don’t know until later, when Martel mentions that she’s a nurse. (Well, better that sexist stereotype than the whore, I suppose.) Is a “lure of adventure” really enough? Well, because the character is so narrowly defined, it is. Sarah doesn’t exist for any other purpose than to serve as Henry’s agreeable wife. We don’t get any sense of what occurred during the conversation. Did Sarah express any doubts, thus giving us a reason to be interested in the Henry-Sarah marriage and generating some conflict that might have us understand Henry’s writing problems? No. Can Yann Martel write persuasively about marriages? Oh fuck no.

(b) What is Sarah’s role in the book? To nurture in stereotypical fashion and get knocked up. To wit: “Sarah suggested gently that he was perhaps depressed. She encouraged him to keep busy. And though this is jumping ahead — and telling an entirely different story — Sarah in time became pregnant….” (24)

8. Recycling Text to Fill Up Space: The book uses up a good seven pages to reproduce the text of Flaubert’s “The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller” for no reason at all. Well, actually, there was one central reason. Martel needed to pad out the book so that the reader might think that it’s a novel. And indeed, the play within the book also permits Martel to perform the same trick, killing off some white space with dialogue like this:

BEATRICE: How’s your back?
VIRGIL: It’s fine. How’s your neck?
BEATRICE: Without knots.
VIRGIL: How’s your foot?
BEATRICE: Ready for another day. (122)

And so on. You would get more human insight from a drunken man transcribing a nursery school conversation.

* * *

Keep in mind that I’ve merely selected examples from the first forty pages. The whole goddam book is like this. And the only real reason I felt compelled to write this is because Spiegel & Grau kept sending me copies — as if possessing four infernal editions of the same ineptly written novel would somehow entice me to like it. I hope that the above examples have demonstrated that reading Beatrice and Virgil is a bit like being forced to participate in a gangbang with lepers. You may admire the novelty of the experience, but, in the end, you contract something difficult to shake off.


  1. Yeah, but what do you think of the book? (Which, by the way, has pages and a front cover and a back cover. Words written on those pages.)

  2. I reflexively want to offer sympathy for the time and suffering you spent reading it– not to mention what will undoubtedly be enduring trauma. But selfishly, I’m awfully glad you did, and hope your sacrifice gives others pause. I hope it all washes off eventually…

  3. I’m glad you read it so that I could read your review and get this – the best laugh of the day –

    (f) “Henry pulled off the paper clip that held the story together…” (32) Well, let’s see, what other purpose would the paper clip serve? A nose picker?

  4. I think I know what the problem is. Someone has convinced Yann Martel that he is in fact Nicholson Baker and so he thinks that the details he observes are as worthy of observation as Bakers. THe clear error here is then not bad writing, but rather Martel’s delusion that he is a writer of Baker’s caliber.

  5. It’s funny that this review is rather poorly written, overly reliant on badly chosen adjectives and grade school analogies. What is this book about?

  6. Wow, right on! There’s no way I’ll pick it up now. I don’t suppose I’ll ever go back to read Life of Pi again, either…

    Did you choose the arrogant watch-me-everyone-I’m-gonna-try-to-raise-my-eyebrows-all-sexy-like-Brad-Pitt photo just to complement your review? Love it.

  7. Edward! Thank you so much for your review, which is just the antidote I need. I just saw and heard Yann Martel speak for one hour at Barnes & Nobles on 17th St. in Manhattan. Never have I heard such vapidity. I’m shocked anyone would promote Martel.

  8. Shouldn’t some of the blame go to the publisher (Random House) who didn’t have the wit or the guts to insist on rewrite after rewrite until Martel came up with a book worth reading?

  9. Again, Edless, it’s like you’re describing your own prose. You’re a model of postmodern solipsism.

  10. Further proof, apparently, that publishers don’t pay their editors to actually edit any more. Perhaps this might have been salvaged as a passable novella, if edited and trimmed. But who dares to edit writers who have previous best-sellers? Almost no one. And thus does the public suffer a decline in overall quality, and get used to it, like the frog slowly being boiled alive as the temperature gradually rises.

  11. Note also, that the white table cloth is an indirect object. With the comma, that’s not even close to a misplaced modifier. But you don’t really understand grammar, do you?

  12. “this book, which should not have even been permitted even the fourth-class method of self-publication, earned its bumpkin author a six figure sum through indolence and incompetence,” on the other hand, is a dangling modifier — unless you mean that the book is indolent and incompetent. What else? The same passage uses “even” twice in close proximity. The first sentence, instead of reading “so producing the literary equivalent to being completely submerged into a vat of shit” ought to be “so productive of the literary equivalent” in order to have anything like a parallel verb construction and so make sense without re-reading the whole sentence. That sentence pretty much is a literary vat of shit. You are deeply attached to awkward and cumbersome passive verbs. Your figures are so poorly constructed that they hamper implication and clarity. And I can’t really be bothered parsing any more than that.

  13. Hilarious. I can almost see the flecks of foam forming at the corner of your mouth.

    And here let me confess: I hated Life of Pi.

  14. I totally agree, though your takedown was more excruciatingly detailed than mine. Too bad to have a such a pulpit and to squander it so badly.

  15. I landed here by chance, as you do on the web. I enjoyed Life of Pi. I don’t suppose I’ll get around to reading Beatrice and Virgil and maybe it’s no good, but what an unpleasant article this is. Nasty does not equal clever. You don’t just dislike the book, you ‘pine for a brutal throng of vigilantes to chop off the author’s hands’. Heck, the web depresses me sometimes.

    Ah well, serves me right for getting distracted. I should be working.

  16. This reply is mostly for “Alex:”

    1) How do you know this viciousness is “right on” if you haven’t read the book?

    2) Saying you won’t read “Pi” again is like saying you’ll never again eat a sirloin because you tasted a hamburger you didn’t like (and in this case, you didn’t even taste it.)

    3) Attacking someone’s photo is about the most childish and desperate thing you can do. That photo was taken at York University in Dec. 2003. Martel was humble and kind and spoke eloquently for about ninety minutes. The photo was unposed as many people were simply shoving camera phones in his face and he accepted this with good-nature.

    Martel’s latest book may not have succeeded as well as some expected (read, demanded). However, at least he has the guts to try something out of the box, instead of adding to the endless parade of vacuously bad shopaholic or vampire books.

  17. I think your review is entirely wrong.

    I find Martel’s writing style rather crisp and vibrant. He may double on details, but always to poetic effect. He’s earned the right to move beyond, “You broke rules 4, 7, and 10 in chapter three of Strunk and White. Minus 15 points on your research paper.”

    Also, to all you who are chortling to yourselves and saying foolishness like, “Oh, editors these days,” and “Clearly his publishers don’t know how to stand up to him,” I feel it my obligation to tell you that they made him completely rewrite the book three times. Also, that idea about a flip-book that got rejected? That was his book.

    You don’t care for his writing style. Great. But what about the book? What about the questions it raises about writing, fiction vs. nonfiction, retelling tragedy, trust, totalizing, and the Holocaust? It is a short novel. It’s structured more like a short story than anything. Yet it covers a lot of ground, and that profoundly.

    Also, since it is just April of 2010, don’t you think it a tad premature to be calling this the worst book of the decade? But, alas, such shrill hyperbole seems to be your only means of communication.


  18. Michael Wyatt: Yes, I’m familiar with everything you say. It does not alter, in the slightest, my review. If by “covering a lot of ground,” you are referring to the protagonist’s jetsetting, then I suppose you’re right. You’ll get the same effect from a vapid travel brochure.

    Was it too soon for nations to refer to World War I as “the Great War?” Was it too soon to the Nuremburg trial as the “trial of the century?” Not at all. Ergo, it is not too soon to refer to Yann Martel’s amateurish book as “the worst book of the decade.” As my above post demonstrates, the novel does not raise any questions, for which you fail to offer any examples, that cannot be comprehended by a six-year-old. This is in part due to the shallow and ineffectual manner in which Martel writes his book. This post is not hyperbole. It is a helpful warning to readers and a counterpoint to crass marketing forces that wish to sell readers bullshit in a golden wrapper.

  19. @Michael Wyatt: 2010 is still the first decade of the 21st Century, right? So I guess this is the worst book of 2001-2010?

  20. All I know is that when I walked into Borders yesterday, Beatrice and Virgil was on the same table display as Stefanie Meyer’s new book about mind-invading aliens, and how both parasite and host fall desperately in love with the sole human who’s living in a cave, battling off the invasion. Martel’s new book CAN’T be worse than that.

    And, Edward Champion, let’s set all cheap shots aside and admit that the “Games for Gustav” section was powerful. That’s what I meant when I said it briefly covered a lot of ground, and I guess the traveler’s guide analogy isn’t far-off, except I’d probably say it’s more like National Geographic. He gives 12 potent and brief Holocaust scenarios. And there are some of those “games” that I think will stay with me forever, just as much as some entire films or novels I’ve seen/read.

    Plus, I think they were fine in calling WWI the “Great War,” because there had been nothing even remotely like it in public memory. Same goes for Nuremberg. But we’ve all read much worse books than Beatrice and Virgil. And I think the novel’s scope is obviously not even comparable to WWI or Nuremberg. That’s exactly the kind of hyperbole I’m talking about.

    @Timmytee That’s a cute argument, and I knew someone would not let me be without bringing it up. But when we talk about the 1920s, typically 1920 is included in that time-band. When historians write about the 2010s (and its worst novel, whatever that may be) I feel confident in predicting they will include 2010 in that envelope. But hey, if they don’t, I’ll buy you some buffalo wings.

  21. “All I know is that when I walked into Borders yesterday, Beatrice and Virgil was on the same table display as Stefanie Meyer’s new book about mind-invading aliens.” Obviously, you are unfamiliar with co-op placement.

  22. Edward,
    I write because your behavior seems more than a little childish. In fact, beyond your absurd obsession with hyperbole, a point noted earlier by someone else, I find your review a bit shallow.

    Ideally, when one writes a review, there is some analysis of the content of the book. All I got here, in what I was hoping to be a decent treatment of the book, was exactly what your website denotes, a rant. There was very little depth to your “review.”

    You attack his use of language, despite the fact that I noticed some grammatical errors of your own (see “Henry leaves a voicemail for her Later, we get this”).

    I find your arrogance in proposing a rewrite quite astounding. I found your rewrite of his “messages in bottles” sentence to be, in a word, laughable. It feels completely contrived and merely uses the same words without conveying the depth of the phrase.

    And to continue to rag on his “overwriting” under the guise of exposing his laziness is immature. That is clearly not taking into account the voice of the speaker. To assume it is Martel speaking directly is a fallacy. Any literary student worth his/her salt knows that fact. And Victor Hugo was far more long-winded in Les Miserables, yet no one disputes that it is a powerful book worth reading for, if nothing else, its commentary on society and prejudices.

    In a somewhat similar vein, “Beatrice and Virgil” is allegorical, a style that is one of Martel’s trademarks. Allegories are seldom action-packed and flashy, but rather provide the opportunity for instruction on a particular principle. Note: They do not force education, but merely offer the chance for deeper analysis to receive deeper understandings.

    One would rarely consider the parables in the Bible to be bestseller-riveting, yet their depth and insights cannot be overstated. The long sentences you gripe about, a feature found in Faulkner’s writings, by the way, are used with purpose (I refer you to my earlier point about the voice of the speaker). To miss that concept, and do so in a very complete fashion, is to discredit yourself as a reviewer.

    For a book so packed with horrible writing, I noticed you recycled at least one example, that of the “unnamed city.” The long paragraph you cited seemed an example of skillful writing. Never once, in all your examples of “repetitive writing” did I ever find the material to be needlessly redundant. In fact, if so many instances are found, could it not be possible that they were intentional, perhaps even a trait of the speaker?

    I, personally, found added detail with the “redundancies.” I felt they were appropriate elaborations on previously-established details. It seems that in your opinion, every book should read like a New York Times article, brief, lacking in literary features, and devoid of all emotion. But that’s just the impression I got from your “review.”

    These are but a few of the qualms I have with your “review.” I think it bad form that you read a book without an open mind. To then give it negative feedback is not the least bit surprising. What surprises me even more is that any publisher would consider wasting copies of any material on a reviewer who comes to conclusions before the completion, or start, of their investigation. If such was not the case, why would you hesitate to pick up a copy of the newest book by an award-winning author?

    However, what really takes the cake, and something you should seriously amend, is that after lambasting the book with such relish, there was an advertisement on the very same site to order the book.

    I suppose, though, that you weren’t maliciously insulting Yann Martel’s latest work for your good health or for the good of mankind, right?

  23. It wont help for Mr Champion to defend himself. He demonstrates he hasnt the capacity to understand a remarkable book describing a putrid stain. He would have been a follower – and possibly willing to participate directly.

  24. THANK YOU! Absolutely everything you say is true about this atrocious book. I am tired of listening to the mob of Martel fans praise him and this book as it it were the most enlightening piece of literature of the century. Disgusting. Are you familiar with the movie “Idiocracy”? Funny because it is true.

  25. What a strange person you are. Maybe you ought to get out a bit more. It’s like you’re jealous or something. Seriously. As others have said, there’s quite a punch in this short book. In fact, I’d argue, he says more in this 200 pages than most authors can say in 900. And, though I may not be as erudite as you, I honestly did not get confused over the tablecloth description. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

  26. I truly appreciate any reviewer that will lay it all out there. And it takes real dedication to finish a book that you detest, even if it is only 200 pages. I have to admit that I enjoyed Life of Pi, but I can certainly see how Martel’s style could be misused and become unbearable. I’ve personally always considered DeLillo’s Cosmopolis to be the worst book of the decade, but I guess he has some competition.

  27. I don’t know what it’s like to win the Booker (probably nice) but I imagine one would begin to think of himself as a Booker Prize Winning Author and hence that everything he would have to write would have to be at a standard above Richard Bach. I mean, it wouldn’t matter to me because I like to just drivel on, but it wouldn’t be like you could write anything, even a childrens’ book without everyone expecting there to be something very special about it. And it wouldn’t be like you cobbled together Harry Potter and could depend on an audience barely capable of sounding out all the larger words (my kind of slavish audience) to run Pi into a seven novel miniseries.

    And seriously, anytime a writer/director/producer grows desperate they reach for the gross out or ultimate spelled – Holocaust. Because, really, do we really need another book about the Holocaust? As if we haven’t heard all the graphic details ad nauseum practically from birth? As if nothing else of an atrocious manner has ever happened to another group of human beings anywhere in the world? As if worse aren’t happening every day in the Congo?

    Worse, using animals as allegories to depict the great horrors humans commit upon other humans is an horrific and cruel joke. I can assure you, there are things being done to animals even as you read this that not a single resurrected victim of Auschwitz would prefer to endure than another journey through Hitler’s death machine. It speaks volumes of the author’s lack of sensitivity and, yeah, desperation. The writing would have to be genius to justify anyone bothering with it. I take it it isn’t.

  28. I don’t know what it’s like to win the Booker (probably nice) but I imagine one would begin to think of himself as a Booker Prize Winning Author and hence that everything he would have to write would have to be at a standard above Richard Bach. I mean, it wouldn’t matter to me because I like to just drivel on, but it wouldn’t be like you could write anything, even a childrens’ book without everyone expecting there to be something very special about it. And it wouldn’t be like you cobbled together Harry Potter and could depend on an audience barely capable of sounding out all the larger words (my kind of slavish audience) to run Pi into a seven novel miniseries.

    And anytime a writer/director/producer grows desperate they reach for the gross-out, or ultimate, spelled – Holocaust. Because, really, do we really need another book about the Holocaust? Is there anyone who hasn’t heard all the graphic details ad nauseum at least once? As if nothing else of an atrocious manner has ever happened to another group of human beings anywhere in the world? As if worse aren’t happening every day in the Congo?

    Worse, using animals as allegories to depict the great horrors humans commit upon other humans is an horrific and cruel joke. I can assure you, there are things being done to animals even as you read this that not a single resurrected victim of Auschwitz would prefer to endure than another journey through Hitler’s death machine. It speaks volumes of the author’s lack of sensitivity and, yeah, desperation. The writing would have to be genius to justify anyone bothering with it. I take it it isn’t.

  29. I agree with this review though maybe worst “of the decade” is a little bit hyperbolic (though I understand you were under the influence of the book when writing.) The writing style is just so incredibly damned pretentious. Every page is tortured and self-conscious. The idea of trying to stretch out the page count didn’t occur to me as I read. It’s novella-length as it is, and that’s with all the wide-margin play scenes, Flaubert story, etc.

    One question after reading: why did his dog & cat get rabies?

  30. Where to begin?

    First of all, you are clearly not an immigration attorney who is familiar with the laws of multiple countries; that is a rare specialty indeed. I’m not an expert, but I do know that in many countries, including the USA, investors and investment income often receive different treatment under immigration laws. (See INA Section 203(b)(5), for example, among many others.) In addition, the book never mentions what kind of visa Henry has or what his status is. A famous writer or artist or athlete, for example, can receive special treatment under certain circumstances. Be careful about throwing around assumptions and misinformation. Also be careful about focusing on details that are, at best, peripheral to the story.

    Second, your own verbal violence is repugnant even if it does not rise to the level of Mr. Martel’s. Hyperbole about shooting a real person with an AK-47 or cutting his hands off is not humorous, at least not among decent people who purport to be adults with literary leanings.

    Third, what about the substance of the thing? Why nit-pick over debatable grammatical problems when there was so much to say about the allegories and the *numerous* literary references and the structure of the book?

    I must admit that I, too, hated the book and I wish that I’d never heard of it. Among other things, I didn’t identify with Henry (though Beatrice and Virgil were charming), I thought that the nature of the ending was entirely predictable, and I loathed passages such as the lengthy description of the many bestial victims in the taxidermist’s shop. I still think that Mr. Martel is a very gifted writer and I think that his ability shows through here and there in Beatrice and Virgil. However, I think that on the whole this book is a failed experiment – the thing boiled down to excessively sickening violence without original insight. I’m sure that others will disagree as the text is rich and there’s plenty of material to argue about, but that was my take. I identify with your strong dislike of the book, though apparently for different reasons.

  31. Ed,

    I note that The Kindly Ones was the worst book you’ve read ‘in three years,’ and this the worst in ten: so Martel’s work is three times as bad?

  32. I loved the book. Just like I don’t listen to movie critics, I don’t listen to book critics, what kind of a job is that anyway? Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I LOVED THE BOOK. Just finished it yesterday. Have fun pointing out all my grammar mistakes, while you do that, I’ll go have some fun in the real world.

  33. I was willing to listen to you, to believe that Martel is a charlatan, a kind of faith healer promising insights he can’t deliver. But it’s hard to take you seriously when you don’t comment at all on the overall themes of the book or how it impacted you as a whole. Instead you concentrate on correcting its grammar and sentence construction like a disgruntled High School teacher. I’m not sure that gets to the heart of what’s wrong or right about a book on the Holocaust.

    It’s also hard to take you seriously when you compare the claim that this is “the worst book of the decade” to the statement that World War 1 was the Great War. That’s preposterous. A book is a piece of art. It’s analysis is subjective. Even comparing your review to the objectively weighed description of a horrific historical event like World War 1 is not only arrogant, it’s delusional. I can only hope it was a joke, a bad joke.

    (Sorry for reusing the same noun to add poetic effect.)

  34. Notice that Mr. Champion had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to criticize about the content of the book as far as the message Martel was trying to send. If you don’t like his writing style, that’s one thing. But to focus on his grammar alone instead of actually reading the text for depth and insight and his point of view on the Holocaust, and the pain of human suffering, and the countless other topics that Mr. Champion apparently has nothing to say about. He may have “read” Beatrice and Virgil, but he never truly “read” it and actually thought about Martel’s intentions in using allegories and symbolism to display the complexities of the Holocaust.
    Sorry for my bad grammar. If anyone chooses to attack my post, please base your arguments on my opinions, not my grammar or petty specific writing mistakes.

  35. I will add my voice. I have read the book. I agree that Yann Martel has nothing to add to the literature about the holocaust, or any other horror, that Waiting for Godot didn’t do already 99 times better. He’s riding on Beckett’s coat tails, with only his own toe on the ground. What is Martel adding to the dialectic? Nothing. Only ths: he would like the right to write about the holocaust even though he’s not Jewish and didn’t experience it, yet once he takes most of the book to take the right and step up to the plate, all he says is that atrocity is horrible and sadistic. I agree with Ed, nothing that a 6 year-old couldn’t figure out.

    To the people who loved this book: I don’t think they’ve read Primo Levi, or Sophie’s Choice, or any other book about the holocaust, or any Orwell either. Gustav’s games at the end are merely a sampling from non-fiction accounts of what happened. That’s what they are – they’re not Martel’s at all. He is a magpie, fine, but he is dishonest by witholding the true origins, as he was in the limited way he acknowledged his taking the setup for Life of Pi from that Brazilian writer. There was a theft there, in that the acknowledgement was too little, too late.

    Ed, you didn’t take Martel to task for his terrible ending either, in which a Nazi who has survived WWII and sixty-five years afterwards decides to kill himself because a man as inconsequential as Henry doesn’t approve of his play? No, not even an interesting meta-text on an ending, not even believable as an allegory. Just intellectually flaccid.

  36. Thank you…Ed….maybe you can save my life. Yes… I loathed Beatrice and Virgil and spent several days erasing it from my mind…. too painful and I don’t want those images and emotions lurking around there. But I’m suicidal over the state of book reviews in general where the worst pieces of shit are praised as great American novels. I am doing research for (someone else’s) review of Gary Shtenygart’s new book Super Sad True Love Story and I’m convinced that book may be worse than the new Yann Martel. The reviews coming in are raving about this book like it’s the War and Peace of the new millennium. I’m seriously distraught. The book is a dystopia (so he says) where language no longer matters, hence the “super sad” of the title. The book doesn’t convince me that we humans no longer value the written words, but the careless, shallow, stupid, gushing reviews scare the shit out of me. Your review of Martel gives me hope. BTW, as much as I detested Beatrice and Virgil… no… I need to rephrase that… the word detest indicates a personal response…. not only did I personally respond to the book with repugnance….I also objectively concluded that the book lacked a sliver of literary merit, based on all I know about literature and writing. Sorry… that sentence got off track. What I started to say was that I heard Martel speak at a book festival shortly before reading the book. He was brilliant – completely convincing in all his ideas. Yet somehow that abortion on paper was born from his intelligence and profound thinking. I guess that reality is a fact of life right? Even the best ideas and intentions alone aren’t enough to create a piece of art, or even to tell a competent tale.

  37. Beatrice and virgil is not a masterpiece, but the plot is interesting. i like the interesting take on the characters especially, the donkey and monkey. The end gets a little messy, but, overall its a decent read. The review that you’ve given is, im sorry to say very ridiculous, very strong, and everything is shredded to the last d. I dont think this criticism is in anyway sensible.

  38. i think it’s good to listen when a reviewer says This book was fantastic. but when the reviewer says This is the worse book in XYZ — don’t listen. Find a more objective voice.

    Some of the the review content was correct. The book did have some awkwardness about it–it wasn’t “tight”. But it was also a quite interesting story. And the complaints about the language are unfounded. And the one about the dangling modifier just wrong.

    In the end, it (Beatrice and Virgil) was a sneaky way to write about the Hollocaust, pretty much all a setup for Games for Gustav.

  39. what a vindictive idiot you are edward. And so arrogantly pompous. Apart from your vile invective, which has some element of entertainment, your “critique” (a word whose meaning you clearly forgot when you wrote this piece of venal verbiage) is filled with reasons that don’t ring true (for me). I found Beatrice and Virgil filled with light, tremendous humor (reminiscent of boccaccio and rabelais) and the most crushing irony. Like any book, there are bits and parts that drag, but at its core i.e. the taxidermist’s play, there is an experience of the sublime. You have actually featured in the book – in the early pages there is a lunch at a fine london restaurant where henry is heckled by a man who doesnt believe fiction can mean much to a story oft told. He represents whats wrong with how we consume literature today, the expectations we have from it and the expectations we have from ourselves when we read. And that is exactly what your review of Beatrice & Virgil represents.

  40. Well, Ed, you’re clearly just a jerk. Admittedly, Beatrice and Virgil was a weird book. But a creative way of looking at the Holocaust. I still like Yann Martel. Life of Pi is still a favorite book of mine, and I’m glad I own Beatrice and Virgil too. Your review offers very little substance. But it did provide me with a little evening amusement: “Hah! A book critic who thinks he’s worth something!”

  41. Beatrice and Virgil was, admittedly, not the greatest read. But I still hold that Life of Pi was amazing. Too bad he seems to be going downhill… still, it’s hardly deserving of a rant like this.

  42. I will give you that the writing, especially in the first quarter of the book, was jarring…that aside, noting the violence in the book as a negative point seems like an effort to ignore reality, ie ignorance, when the subject matter being described was indeed violent. I think alot of people read this book and are struck with a sense of dread over a horrifying situation that the writer does not resolve, and yet is absolute reality that the reader can have no resolution to ever…this leaves the book open in their mind, and not in the sense that they are still thinking of it…in the sense that game 13 exists and 14, and 15 and so on…and that they met and loved beatrice and virgil and that they went through the games and were never compensated…

    sometimes the world doesnt hand everyone a happy ending…

  43. Dear God, what a lot of smarty pants you all are..shooting holes in each others grammar, nit picking each others text, trying desperately to outsmart and outwit each other with wordy weapons. Edward, you are a prick, there is no doubt. Were you beaten as a child, and now need to punish the world with your venom? There is life out there, go see it, and get over yourself.

  44. I like what you had to say about the book. I found a lot of what I found in the book, but i must confess that I liked it as much as I disliked it. I think that is what the author had in mind though. The subject is overlooked in your analysis and that is surprising to me. Isn’t a book about content and not structure. I could point to the clues in the book that are there to point this out and even as simple as he made it you didn’t catch on. I am not defending this book though. It does drag on. Love it or hate it you remember it, and it made a large enough impact on your life that you made this… blog… tome? Either way the publisher obviously made their money on this and isn’t that what counts. Among literature I hated the old man and the sea for the same reason I disliked this book, but the feeling it gave me is what I remember, not the boring daftness of it. I think the mark of a good book is that someone, anyone has read it all the way through and was able to take something from it. Even hate for a book who’s entire point is an attempt at understanding hate.

  45. well I havent read this book yet, i was planning to but not anymor. Iwas surprised though, i actually like the life of pi, his 2nd book, actually i loved it.Im surprised his book stunk so much

  46. This was an enjoyable review to read. I hate the book. I find Yann Martel pretentious. He is an ok story teller but he lacks originality.

  47. What’s funny is that the book provoked this review and the 50 comments that have preceded mine. I, too, thought the book was a crying shame till about 40 pages from the finish line when I realized that the writer succeeded in elevating the book above himself. It has a life of it’s own. Who cares about how the writer looks at the camera? Those descriptions of torture, the unveiling of the taxidermist — those are rare things of beauty.

  48. We were delighted to find a brand new copy of this new book by Yann Martel lying on a street in Fredericksburg, Tx.
    However, after attempting to read it, even skipping over many sections, we quickly understood why it was on the side of the road!
    Truly awful!

  49. I don’t find myself to be a naturally critical thinker and therefore enjoy reading various reviews of books after reading in order to shine light on nuances I may have missed. Yours wasn’t the only negative commentary, but was certainly the least helpful and most elementary. You spent a lot of energy on that rant, and yet touched on not a single topic that mattered. I have no desire to dig deeper into this website. Too bad.

  50. I loved the book, I couldn’t put it down. Martel’s style is so quirky and unconventional which I really appreciate. I found his subject and characters to be very intriguing. It would be a shame if people don’t read the book because of Edward’s slimy article, it is this article that has no merit. And it’s a pity that it ranks so high in Google search because Edward’s words are unworthy of such a position.

  51. “All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.”

    -Conan O’Brien

  52. If I wanted to read a tirade that didn’t include any kind of review on the actual subject matter I would go ask up to a Grad student and ask his opinion on Dan Brown.

    Next time actually read the book, and use your indoor voice–like a big boy.

  53. You have missed the point of the book, and your “critique” only serves to highlight the point the book was trying to make in the first place.
    It is about finding a way to talk about something.
    It is talking about talking about something.
    That is why it is repetitive and nonsensical and uses lengthy quotes. None of these are sufficient, but they are something. They are a way of talking. That is why the plot may have dragged: plot is secondary in this work. Style is substance and if you do not understand that, then you have no right to be discussing post-modern literature.

  54. When I see the terms ‘shit’ and ‘AK-47’ in a review along with intimations of violence, amputation of the author’s hands and his eventual dismemberment, murder etc., I become more suspicious of the reviewer than of the author- and wonder who it’s really about, suspecting that the reviewer is posing and preening, advertizing his own bloody-mindedness and talent for outrage. Surely the reviewer’s motives can’t be literary or critical, nor is he appealing to our intelligence, not to mention his own if he has any. Left with bombast and obscenity, perhaps he thinks he’s writing in the tradition of Celine, Houllebecq or Swift. But then they have talent. Outrage can be brilliant. Mere puerility never is. And then I see that the reviewer has gone to the trouble of dissecting at length a novel he thinks isn’t worth the ink expended on a single word. Then I wonder if, in some way he is threatened by the novel. The best criticism, like the best writing, is impersonal. The other kind is emotional, betraying all kinds of motives that have little to do with thought, criticism or even literature. It’s also the kind of writing that will only be accepted on one’s own website.One of the downsides of the internet.

  55. Seems to me a lot of comments are by people who are vicariously enjoying a knee-jerk attack on Martel’s book without having read it themselves.
    That’s equivalent to seeing a street-fight and joining in just because you want to indulge in a little aggro yourself.
    Yann Martell is a thinker – unlike some I could name.

  56. You must be a dipwade, because only a dipwade would miss the half-line alliteration. Best catch up on your Beowulf.

  57. I googled “Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil review” and got to your site. But you gave me nothing on the “review” part. Usually when people look for review they expect a real review on the plot, storyline, characters and their development etc. All I find here are some critics and rantings about how some words shouldn’t be repeated, some things shouldn’t be explained (the flip book), some sentences should be rephrased etc. It is not always about grammer, it’s about delivering the emotions to its readers.

    Sadly I find this review not helpful at all. And it’s most probably the worst review I’ve ever read. I shouldn’t have wasted my time reading this whole thing but I couldn’t help wanting to know how bad it can go.

  58. Someone in the comments above mentioned that we don’t need another Holocaust novel. Martel should instead be looking to the events in the Congo or other places in which massacre is taking place. This is in fact what Martel is trying to do. By giving the events a generic name “The Horrors” and looking at them through the lens of ethnic-less narrators, Martel attempts to paint a picture that will apply to any tragedy.

    As Greg said, “It is talking about talking about something.” This is not another “Holocaust novel” but is rather a book which questions how we can move forward after any dreadful event. I didn’t find the book to be grotesquely violent at all. The violence is never at the center of the story but is always on the peripheries as Beatrice and Virgil struggle to fill their Sewing Kit with the tools to rebuild their land. They do not condemn or damn their attackers, but rather seek a way to repair the tears. This translates into the higher story when, at the end, we learn that the taxidermist is not a Jewish survivor, but rather a Nazi survivor. Because at the end of the day, everyone has to move on and deal with what just happened. Whether that be in Germany, or the Congo, or the edges of the disappearing jungle.

  59. How about the incredible description of a pear? There’s no forced poetry, only quiet power and some memorable writing choices, in the way Yann chooses to begin an allegorical investigation of something frequently earmarked as indescribable by rendering a simple object as describable. I didn’t feel like his choice of allegorical subject was lazy. I liked that he wanted to see if one could describe a pear, if it is possible to render the basest of concepts in language. If this is achievable, what are the building blocks that make it so? In this case, the senses. What other tools are at your disposal? For the animals, prior knowledge of other fruits for comparison. Aren’t these sophisticated clues about how we can begin to approach the vastest sprawlingest most bloodiest or complex of concepts? You don’t start describing the indescribable with the enormous. You start with one human story. You begin with a written record. A fact. This passage preceded a book that was trademark Pi-wonderful in places and self-reflexively indulgent and disappointing in others. But it is enough… the reason I champion a look at the book to others and reason enough for B & G to earn its place on my shelf.

    You begin with a pear.

  60. Hello,
    I’m sorry you felt that way reading this book. I respect your opinions and free thoughts on it, but keep in mind that there are others out there that did enjoy the book—me being one of them, and I am a libraian (so I’ve read many books of all kinds). I actually really liked it a lot. It was a little wierd, but I liked it nontheless. I am happy I read it, so I am glad it was published. Maybe you should take some anger management courses if a book can make you feel this crazy.

  61. Fair enough; you didn’t get it. as others have said, you didn’t actually get what Martel was trying to achieve. The normality and apparent banality of Henry’s life (emphasized by the slightly laborious writing style used to describe it) offsets the bizarre world of the taxidermy. It also helps to make Beatrice and Virgil’s voices more punchy; after all, they are the reason that most readers will remember this novel. I read that Henry’s wife is just a ‘tool’ that serves no purpose; if anything, Henry is just a tool for Beatrice and Virgil’s story to be heard. The seemingly long descriptions of his writing process at the beginning, and his lack of success in conveying his viewpoint, serve to show the various difficulties in writing, be it to find unique words, or just the words at all. If the play itself was boring or badly written, then the novel would probably have been excruciating to read- but it is this play, the way only certain scenes were revealed- that kept me hooked.


    All the way through I thought, as I’m sure many others did, that the taxidermist was a Holocaust survivor, so was taken aback by the twist that he could have been a Nazi survivor. My only complaint with the novel was the taxidermist’s random stabbing; why would he suddenly want to kill Henry? I know he was a little crazy, but why? There were no signs that he was murderous before? I am willing to listen to an explanation of this; am genuinely confused. Call me simple.

  62. Ed, I admire the brazen temerity of your convictions! I love the wolfish manner in which your critique delightfully rips through the jugular of Martel’s weak, emaciated prose. I also sense the relish you surely had in inflaming the tepid, Victorian sensibilities of the literary limp-wrists – who, like Martel, have been weaned on the poisoned, politically-correct teat of an insipid self-righteousness. Bravo Sir! You took the words right out of my mind.

    As for the fools who attack Mr. Champion’s insightful analysis for failing to comment on the book’s content, here’s the newsflash: Martel’s feel-good, pretentious homage to mediocrity has no substance.

    I hope for the sake of Western civilization that Martel scuttles back into the literary sewer where he can vie with Stephen King and Dan Brown for the latest droppings of rat feces.

  63. I liked Beatrice and Virgil a lot. I think that some of you are simply missing the point of the book and are being overly critical and outright mean in your analysis of the author.

  64. continued from previous statement…
    I also really liked Martell’s book entitled”Self”. Martell is a great storyteller. Sorry for not going into details… I’m typing with 2 fingers over here.

  65. If this were like an Aesop’s tale, what do think he’s trying to say?
    I thought his archetypes were considerably well thought out, I understood the point. Most of you didn’t point out that Henry was tricked into helping the taxidermist write the play. It was Henry who filled in the attributes, descriptions and personality. So many narrow minded readers, you don’t deserve the epiphany. Did you read Games for Gustav?

  66. I don’t like Yann Martel either but this author chose terrible examples, and clearly doesn’t understand grammar. I think Ed is just one of those people who thinks that if he can look down on others, it makes him smarter than them.

  67. A wonderful rant. I am lucky I only paid £2.00 for this book from a remaindered shelf. To think I could have spent more on his Pi and Chips book!

    Within a few pages it was evident that it was nothing more than an ego trip. Every other sentence shouted out: ‘Me’ Me’ ‘Me’

    As for the so called story proper. I would liken it to that disgusting film by Roberto Begnini – Life Is Beautiful. There are some things that art should stay away from and that is the death camps. Martel should read The Road by Vasily Grossman and his on the scene reportage of Treblinka.

    As for the writing style. I can imagine his teacher marking his homework: ‘Tends to ramble on and on about nothing.’

    ‘Less padding and more economy of words will only save this boy from a life of misery.’

    And then there’s his cod philosophy at the end. I wonder if there are any other authors out there who are as condescending and patronising to their readers.

    It’s to be hoped that Martel throws away his pen or keyboard and takes up something useful in life such as emptying garbage bins – especially those which are brimming over with his trash novels.

  68. Oops! Forgot to give qualification to Martel’s rambling style..

    Read his narrative about the taxidermist’s place of work. It would be the perfect antidote to send a child to sleep. Just read it out to them and they will be fast asleep within minutes.

    Now compare Martel’s prolixity with say Yuri Druzhnikov. The latter knows how to sew words together with the finest silk and with great economy and yet still present a powerful image. Martel it seems like to sew his sentences together with lots and lots of wool that not even a kitten could untangle.

    Dire! Truy dire!

  69. I think the reviewer here, Edward Champion, has missed the point. But then, his review is written with a total lack of intelligence or sophistication, so I guess its only fair to expect his opinions to be likewise.

    I would beg anyone who has got this far down the thread to forget all this nonsense and try Beatrice and Virgil themselves, with an open mind. Hell, it’s less than 200 pages so you’ve really not got much to lose.

    I came to the book having not read Life of Pi or any B&V reviews and I absolutely loved it. I found it moving and poignant, and the writing style beautiful, delicate and subtle. Perhaps too subtle for some. It is one of the best books I have ever read.

  70. Edward – Your review is the funniest fuckIng thing I have ever read. I cannot wait to read some of your other opinions.

  71. I agree with some of the above comments that Mr. Champion was a bit too gleeful in his attempt to shred this ‘novella’ to pieces.

    His violent reaction and descriptions of chopping off hands were very off putting, and led me to conclude his ability to review the book was lacking objectivity.

    I myself loved the book until I hated it. I found Mr. Martel’s writing style compelling and was drawn along, led by the nose, so to speak, by the interesting unraveling of what was seemed a mystery to me.

    Of course I knew he was setting the reader up and was prepared for a big reveal about the Holocaust, or the inhumane treatment of animals, or probably both scenarios.

    However, ‘the big reveal’ was such a graphic let down.

    I read a story once that described a rape scene that was so vile I had nightmares for weeks. I found out later that the author had described her own personal experience and the process of writing the graphic details of the assault on her was very cathartic.

    Put in such a context, I understand the need to describe violence so we understand how it diminishes humanity. However, Mr. Martel’s descriptions of torture were, in my mind, meant to shock and brutalize the reader.

    My compassion for both humans and animals was not increased. I did not evolve from having read paragraph after paragraph of graphically depicted violence.

    ‘The Horrors,’ have been described with fewer words, and much more gravity from the mouths of people who experienced them.

    I wouldn’t have been so disgusted if he hadn’t tried to smash it all together with a sledge hammer at the end.

    Perhaps that was his point. This is what happened, take a good look. Now I hope you all feel like shit!

    Perhaps we should feel like shit. I know I did.

  72. It is vital to carry on bearing witness to one of the most horrific atrocities of the last century because it is still happening. That other races and faiths are the current target is irrelevant. Never again, it is said, but how quickly we forget. Every time.
    Your critique of this book would have been readable if your vocabulary was higher than grade school vindictive. Still, I read it through. Though I must say at nearly every sentence I kept thinking that you’d made your point. The reference to the ak47 was entirely unnecessary and a revealing insight into your inner landscape.

  73. I think the author was trying to portray Beatrice and Virgil as naive Jews who did not truly understand why Holocaust was happening, or even it was happening until later. We can argue that Martel intended to write that way in order to draw the readers in and see from B & V’s point of views, and as well as the Nazi character. Let’s just enjoy the book as it is. You chose to read it, nobody forced you to finish it. One can argue that “Night” by Elie Wiesel was a poorly written book, or a masterpiece. It is subjective as always. Relax and enjoy the hard work put in by authors. I admire them putting that much thought and hours to create something out of the box.

  74. […] But Barthes argues that all this information on personal leanings is empty in the end: “I like, I don’t like: this is of no importance to anyone; this, apparently, has no meaning.” When applied to the study of literature, I take his point to be that one should never cease the discussion with “did you like it?” Any English teacher or book club coordinator would be dismayed by the one-word answers this question elicits. If the best you can say for a book is “I liked it,” it is possible that you never fully engaged with it – that you failed to notice the author’s style, the choice of narrative voice, the strength or weakness of the characterization, the piecing together of the plot. Similarly, if you can say nothing beyond “I didn’t like it,” it is doubtful that you could have given the book a fair chance. Any book has redeeming qualities. And either a positive or a negative response must be backed up with evidence; this is one of the first things we all learned in our high school English classes, where we were drilled for hours on how to write thesis statements with three supporting topic sentences. (A terrific example of a systematically justified demolition of a hated book, in this case Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil, can be found here.) […]

  75. You spent so much time going on about how the writer ‘repeats himself’ or ‘puts too much detail’ that you forgot to mention what the book is actually about. You forgot to tell the reader about Henry’s emotional journey, about the hidden tricks and about the strange characters. You forgot to say how there’s a huge plot twist at the end, how it leaves you wanting more. You didn’t give a shit about the main essence of the story and just focused on petty details that no one cares about. People like you don’t deserve to read stories like this, never mind review them.
    Oh, and also, when you moan about the writer ‘recycling text’ and ‘reproducing another writers story’, you forget to mention the fact that the text is vital to the story and without it the reader wouldn’t understand. And the quote you used from the play, which is a simple conversation between beatrice and virgil, is written that way on purpose, through the hand of the taxidermist, to show his character and also to show how the play isn’t working.
    Please, don’t be put off from reading Martels’ work, just because of this idiot.

  76. this is the most butthurt and pseudo-intellectual review i have ever read

    it’s just a storyteller telling a good goddamn story. Take if for what it is, rather than nitpicking over the authors diction. It seems like you are very intentionally looking for things to complain about

  77. Wow. Hope you have calmed down. The book was strange, but you get wrapped up in silliness instead of focusing on intent. it wasn’t that bad.
    Thanks for the interesting harangue.

  78. why oh why oh why oh why oh why – to coin a phrase. bideweigh I m rather useless at grammar so I use dashes instead + I ‘m useless at words and often use the wrong ones by mistake except when I use the wrong ones on purpose.
    I loved “beatty & vigil” from start to beginning and back again. I too couldn t understand why henry stabbed henry and then stayed in the burning building.
    I ve since been pondering how on earth it could be turned into a movie with so few action sequences – perhaps in the restaurant a heavily armed bile spitting reviewer can come crashing through a window.
    I also thought the 12 “games” at the end were poignant and thought provoking. I see no problem in using the slaughter of animals for thrills down the years as an allegory for the holocaust – as I feel that every single vindictive and pointless death is something that should bring great sadness.

  79. Read this review in the voice of Jebidiah Atkinson, the 1860’s newspaper critic on SNL. You’ll be entertained.

  80. Accidently read Beatrice And Virgil instead of Life of Pi for a reading assignment.FML!!!

  81. I just came upon this fabulous site looking to see if anyone else found Beatrice and Virgil as tedious and horrifying as I did. Add to that manipulative. And yes, the writing style was annoying, but could have been purposeful if the story had been structured differently.

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