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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Beatrice and Virgil

Yann Martel

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | links | about the author

To purchase Beatrice and Virgil

Title: Beatrice and Virgil
Author: Yann Martel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010
Length: 224 pages
Availability: Beatrice and Virgil - US
Beatrice and Virgil - UK
Beatrice & Virgil - Canada

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Haven't gotten a copy; really doesn't sound like something for us

Chances that we will review it:


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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly C+ 7/4/2010 Missy Schwartz
Financial Times . 21/5/2010 Tim Martin
The Globe & Mail . 9/4/2010 Pasha Malla
The Guardian . 5/6/2010 James Lasdun
The Independent . 4/6/2010 Matt Thorne
Independent on Sunday . 30/5/2010 Joy Lo Dico
The LA Times . 18/4/2010 Susan Salter Reynolds
The NY Times . 13/4/2010 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/5/2010 Robert Hanks
The New Yorker . 17/5/2010 .
Newsweek . 26/4/2010 Malcolm Jones
The Observer . 30/5/2010 Sarah Churchwell
San Francisco Chronicle F 11/4/2010 Alan Cheuse
The Spectator F 9/6/2010 Caroline Moore
Sunday Times . 23/5/2010 Peter Kemp
The Telegraph . 8/6/2010 Benjamin Secher
Time . 26/4/2010 Lev Grossman
The Times . 29/5/2010 Aravind Adiga
TLS . 25/6/2010 Rozalind Dineen
USA Today A 13/4/2010 Deirdre Donahue
Wall St. Journal . 17/4/2010 Brooke Allen
The Washington Post F 14/4/2010 Ron Charles

  Review Consensus:

  Very mixed reactions, many with strong reservations

  From the Reviews:
  • "There are some lovely passages (.....) But too often, those moments are lost in the clutter of what reads more like an elaborate writing exercise than a fully realized novel. The endless descriptions and abundant literary allusions (Dante, Diderot, and Beckett, to name a few) are extremely self-conscious." - Missy Schwartz, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Beatrice and Virgil is a short book, barely 200 pages, but Martel gamely stuffs it with metaphorical and metafictional strata that would threaten the structure of a work twice the length. The narrative flits between Kundera-like metropolitan conte, allegorical drama, witness statement, mysterious-stranger thriller and journey of literary self-discovery. But none of them adds up to a satisfactory whole." - Tim Martin, Financial Times

  • "While Life of Pi blurred and complicated the divisions between fact and fiction, Beatrice & Virgil offers an even deeper exploration of what's "real" and what's not. (...) If there is a weakness to Beatrice & Virgil, it might be the actual story, which lacks the narrative momentum of Life of Pi and hinges on a late, revelatory scene that feels more dramatically necessary than effective (or true)." - Pasha Malla, The Globe & Mail

  • "But under the clean, confident surface of this short novel there is something murky and, in my view, dimly appalling. (...) Beatrice and Virgil seems, despite its evidently large ambitions, strangely trivial and narcissistic: a book that ends up thinking about neither Jews nor animals, but using the extermination of both to think about, of all things, writer's block." - James Lasdun, The Guardian

  • "Beatrice and Virgil is such an artless, poorly constructed book that some critics have suggested it goes beyond the risible to become actively offensive. Martel and his protagonist may revel in the infantile, but there seems to be nothing actively malicious in his intentions. It is peculiarly similar to the work of the American novelist Tao Lin, who also enjoys writing about animals having meaningless conversations. But whereas Lin's fiction is a wonderfully deadpan joke, Martel's intentions seem serious." - Matt Thorne, The Independent

  • "Does it fail? Yes; but only if you want it to. (...) While there is a case to argue that the substitution of animals for Jews is offensive, and that Martel may not have reached the high watermark of Life of Pi in literary style, this does a disservice to a wild, provocative novel." - Joy Lo Dico, Independent on Sunday

  • "Writers such as Martel are a kind of human sacrifice. It cannot be easy to imagine a way into suffering, come out, lead others into and through it." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Mr. Martelís new book, Beatrice and Virgil, unfortunately, is every bit as misconceived and offensive as his earlier book was fetching. (...) (H)is story has the effect of trivializing the Holocaust, using it as a metaphor to evoke "the extermination of animal life" and the suffering of "doomed creatures" who "could not speak for themselves."" - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "He appears to want to embrace difficulty while retaining all the readers who loved the easy narrative of Life of Pi. Although his ambition is admirable, the literary complexity and the simplicity of feeling Martel is aiming for donít comfortably mesh. Beatrice and Virgil has its rewards, but the frustrations are what stick in the mind." - Robert Hanks, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Stretching for a new way to think about the Holocaust, Martel makes a series of baffling choices, from his caricature of evil in the taxidermist to the tone-deaf comparison between failing to get published and being a Holocaust victim." - The New Yorker

  • "By not writing about the Holocaust head on, Martel goes a long way toward reawakening our sense of the true enormity of the Final Solution. (...) Unfortunately, that ending is memorable for all the wrong reasons -- melodramatic and obvious where everything before had been subtle and mysterious. Maybe that's just what happens when fey fiction bumps up against hard facts." - Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

  • "If only Martel had bothered to dramatise any of these dilemmas, he might have produced a novel that didn't show the limits of representation quite so painfully." - Sarah Churchwell, The Observer

  • "I know, I know, you can't really get a sense of a work of fiction just from hearing someone describe it, as in Melville's novel about a ship captain with an obsession with a white whale or Kafka's story about a man who wakes up to find that he's a bug. However, in this case, what sounds silly and off-key actually turns out to be silly and off-key. (...) As for this mixture of mock self-effacement, literary posturing and pretentiousness, I would say: Stuff it !" - Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "If you want to read about a talking donkey and howler monkey, exchanging sub-Beckettian dialogue as they traverse a giant shirt, all of which is supposed to be a way of exploring the impossibility of talking about the Holocaust, then this is the novel for you. Those who care about Becket will complain about the rank plagiarism of Henry-the-taxidermistís dialogue. Those who care about the reality of the Holocaust may have deeper grounds for complaint." - Caroline Moore, The Spectator

  • "As you read through its 13-page paraphrase (intercut with lengthy quotation) of a story by Flaubert, its disquisitions on authorship or book design, and its interminable-seeming inventories of stuffed animals and embalming techniques, you canít help feeling that the taxidermist isnít the only person here padding out flaccid material." - Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

  • "A climactic scene that could have been lifted straight out of a second-rate television drama produces, too late, a burst of action. It is followed by a coda that would not feel out of place in a school philosophy exam. By this point, Martel has long since lost his footing. What began as the story of one manís struggle and failure to write about the Holocaust has itself become that struggle, that failure." - Benjamin Secher, The Telegraph

  • "Martel writes with a smooth, almost stoned detachment, cool to the touch, which gives a distant, unreal feeling to a story that's already dangerously weird and abstract. (...) Beatrice and Virgil is a true oddity. Its subject is violence and the impossibility of describing it: violence is an atrocity that immolates language itself, turns us into dumb animals and brute flesh. But Martel's story is so arbitrary and oblique that its savage truth almost misses making itself felt." - Lev Grossman, Time

  • "Spare in its prose and fragmentary in structure, the novel wants to work like a Japanese rock garden. We notice a few pieces of dazzling quartzite -- the descriptions of animals, for instance -- but they add up to nothing. The climax of the book, involving a stabbing and a fire at the taxidermistís shop, is embarrassingly weak. (...) The best that can be said about it is that it is not as bad as some say it is." - Aravind Adiga, The Times

  • "It presents us with a skilfully constructed and confident story, but in spite of the elaborate scenario, it does not offer anything particularly new." - Rozalind Dineen, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Up until about page 117, Yann Martel's new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, appears teeth-grindingly precious. Then, click, you realize: Martel knows exactly what he's doing in this lean little allegory about a talking donkey and monkey. This novel just might be a masterpiece about the Holocaust." - Deirdre Donahue, USA Today

  • "Not all readers are attracted by magical realism and animal fables, but Beatrice and Virgil is so imbued with passionate moral and intellectual ardor that even the cynical should find it engaging." - Brooke Allen, Wall Street Journal

  • "Beatrice and Virgil is so dull, so misguided, so pretentious that only the prospect of those millions of Pi fans could secure the interest of major publishers and a multimillion-dollar advance. This short tale runs into trouble almost from its first precious page (.....) I'm sorry, but this allegory is no Animal Farm or Watership Down. It's a cloying episode of Winnie the Pooh In Which Piglet and Rabbit Are Hacked Apart and Eaten." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Beatrice and Virgil: Reviews: Yann Martel: Other books by Yann Martel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author Yann Martel was born in 1963.

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