Beatrice and Virgil is a 2010 novel by Yann Martel, famous for writing The Life of Pi. The novel is a relatively short, odd story about a novelist and a taxidermist.
In the beginning of the novel, the protagonist, Henry, who has wrote one extremely popular novel before going into semi-retirement, wants to write another book, dealing with the Holocaust. After his publisher refuses the idea, he refuses to write anymore, until he meets a grim taxidermist, who sends him parts of a play he is writing, asking for advice. The play features a howler monkey and a donkey, having a series of inconclusive conversations, in the manner of Waiting for Godot. Much of the book is taken up with the script of this play.
As the protagonist reads more of the play, he realizes that it is about the Holocaust, and he also realizes that the taxidermist may have been a participant in the Holocaust, on the side of the nazis. (Although this is never conclusively stated). The novel reaches a climax with the issue still not totally resolved.
I had mixed feelings about this book. The biggest question I had was about the mining of the Holocaust for literary value, something I feel to be somewhat crass if it is not done with a strong reason in mind. I was uncertain what the conclusion or message was as far as genocide goes, or whether the Holocaust was just brought in to add some interest or drama to a story that otherwise lacks it. On a literary level, the plot is not very engaging, mostly involving the two characters talking about the play. And the book only has two characters: the author-insertion narrator, and the grim taxidermist, and neither character gets that much development in the story.
The biggest problem with Beatrice and Virgil may be the Life of Pi, Yann Martel's surrealistic fable of a boy adrift in the South Pacific. The Life of Pi has become one of the most popular novels of the decade, and while it is certainly an engaging book, I do have my doubts about the permanence of its popularity. In other words, the biggest problem with Beatrice and Virgil is that Yann Martel has to live up to his celebrity-author status, which I do not believe that this book does.