Yann Martel Takes a Critical Hit for Beatrice & Virgil

By Jason Boog Comment

beatrice.pngAs Yann Martel’s new novel Beatrice and Virgil hit shelves last week, it drew heavy criticism from reviewers around the country. Interestingly enough, after 29 reviews on Amazon last Friday, the book averaged five-and-a-half stars.

At the Washington Post, Ron Charles took an allusive attack: “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.”

At the NY Times, Michiko Kakutani sharpened her knives: Mr. Martel’s new book, ‘Beatrice and Virgil,’ unfortunately, is every bit as misconceived and offensive as his earlier book was fetching. It, too, features animals as central characters. It, too, involves a figure who in some respects resembles the author. It, too, is written in deceptively light, casual prose.”

Alan Cheuse had these thoughts at the SF Chronicle: “The details of how he affects this I will leave to those readers who want to waste what might be an otherwise perfectly pleasant afternoon reading Martell’s whimsical and rather odd fictive disquisition on the life of stuffed animals and how they bear on real history. As for this mixture of mock self-effacement, literary posturing and pretentiousness, I would say: Stuff it!”

Finally, in Canada’s National Post, Philip Marchand predicted a wave of bad reviews: “Despite the unresolved conundrums of the novel, I certainly enjoyed reading it. Martel writes in a plain style with brio and confidence and lively intelligence, and uses that style to pursue narrative mysteries in a manner reminiscent of Paul Auster. But unless I miss my guess, this novel will suffer the critical reception of his first novel. Reviewers will be puzzled and some will damn with faint praise. Unfortunately they will have good grounds for this response.”