Monday, April 23, 2012

Beatrice and Virgil

Ever so often I come across a book which rankles something inside. Beatrice and Virgil happened to be one of them.

I picked the book at the library since it came from the author Yann Martel - the writer of " The Life of Pi" which is one of my much loved books. The back cover of the book says " This is the story a donkey named Beatrice and a monkey named Virgil. It is also the story of an extraordinary journey undertaken by a man named Henry." Bizzare eh? It is. The way the author uses animals to communicate about an important event is stirring, unique and very very original. 

The book is written in a very simple tone. It is so simple that it keeps you gripped. The book has just 2 main human characters. In spite of it, the writer somehow manages to keep the narration very taut - so much so that it feels like a thriller novel. But it is not. Another striking facet of the book is the eerie environment that the author manages to create. It does not have any ghosts or ghouls or evil spirits, but the way the author paints the picture of even a sunlit room - makes you apprehensive of what might be lurking in the corners. The same goes for descriptions of some scenes and scenarios. Without being verbose, the writer has many a times painted a soul stirring picture.

If I highlight the good bits of the book, I might end up putting the whole book here. But then I cannot finish this post without the wow parts. So there you go savor some

  • Just as music is noise that makes sense, a painting is color that makes sense, so a story is a life that makes sense.
  • In his entirely personal experience of them, English was jazz music, German was classical music, French was ecclesiastical music and Spanish was music from the streets. Which is to say, stab his heart and it would bleed French, slice his brain open and its convolutions would be lined with English and German, and touch his hands and they would feel Spanish. ( This is the author's description of the man who knew the 4 languages. I have not read such a unique comparison and explanation ever!)
  • Life and death live and die in exactly the same spot, the body. It is from there both babies and cancers are born. To ignore death, then, is to ignore life.
  • Creative block is no laughing matter, or only to those sodden spirits who've never tried to make their personal mark. It's not just a particular endeavour, a job, that is negated, it's your whole being. It's the dying of a small god within you, a part you thought might have immortality. When you're creatively blocked, you're left with - Henry looked around the workshop - you're left with dead skins.
  • To my mind, faith is like being in the sun. When you are in the sun, can you avoid creating a shadow? Can you shake that area of darkness that clings to you,always shaped like you, as if constantly to remind you of yourself? You can't. This shadow is doubt. And it goes where ever you go as long as you stay in the sun. (This is a part of analogy between faith and sun and the juxtapositiong of faith and doubt. Simple yet so effective!)
  • Once you have been struck by violence, you acquire companions that never leave you entirely: Suspicion, Fear, Anxiety, Despair, Joylessness.
Well... I have added some length to my post just by quoting the author. The book is not for everyday reading. But after reading its impossible to forget.


Shalom said...

The quotes have left me intrigued! Will try to get my hands on this one if possible, and also will finish Life of Pi someday .... I started reading it when I was pregnant & couldn't continue more than halfway for whatever reason :D

Jack said...


I will try to read this book as you have aroused my curiosity and will to start reading again.

Take care

Reflections said...

Is this ur 1st review Amrita????
U've done such a good job tht I think everybody who reads this review will want to get their hands on tht book;-o. I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for it:-).

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