Category Archives: Canadian fiction

Review: ‘Beatrice and Virgil’ by Yann Martel

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel, Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Coming after the success and critical acclaim of Life of Pi, winner of the Man Booker prize in 2002, Yann Martel must have felt extreme pressure when he sat down in front of his laptop to begin his next novel. I must begin this review with a disclaimer that shows my bias; I have a cat named Richard Parker, after one of the characters in Life of Pi. It was with great eagerness and excitement that I picked up Martel’s newest work.

Beatrice and Virgil begins with Henry, a writer who, like Martel, has written a successful novel and has just finished a follow-up. Henry’s new book is about the Holocaust and is a novel and an essay together in one volume; it is deemed unmarketable. Disappointed and depressed, Henry and his wife move to a new city where he tries to move past his failure. From descriptions of Henry’s previous novel, It is quite obvious that the character is based on Martel himself.

Within his fan mail, Henry receives an envelope containing a short story by Flaubert and a request for help. He tracks down the sender, a taxidermist who is an odd, unemotional, older man who is attempting to write a play. The main characters of the play are Beatrice, a donkey, and Virgil, a howler monkey. Spurred by the desire for an outlet for his urge to write and eager to begin a new project, Henry decides to help the man finish his play.  Martel intersperses the main plot with snippits of the play.

Both the play within and the novel itself have depth and multiple facets. Similarly to Life of Pi,Beatrice and Virgil uses animals to tell a difficult story. The weakest part of Beatrice and Virgil is the climax which seems abrupt, unexpected and slightly confusing. Martel is known for taking risks and crossing new boundaries of storytelling. His first novel, Self, is a strong example of this as it follows a main character who changes gender. His newest release has the same imaginative force as his previous work, but does not have the same energy and is not quite as satisfying. The most endearing characters of this book are the ones that give it its title and it leaves the readers wanting to read more of the taxidermist’s play.

One of the most memorable yet lighthearted parts of the fictional play is an eight page description of a pear. This segment was entirely captivating and it is likely that more than one reader purchased a pear immediately after reading that section. As always, Martel’s writing style is brilliant; somewhat understated, filled with vivid yet never flowery description.

The very end of Beatrice and Virgil raises a series of questions that cut to the core of human nature. Martel succeeds in his goal of using fiction as a new way of looking at an historic event. It contains everything that one has come to expect from Martel; depth, delicacy, and inventive storytelling. Creating the follow-up to Life of Pi must have been a daunting task, but he has done an admirable job.


Leave a comment

Filed under book review, Canadian fiction

Review: ‘Nikolski’ by Nicolas Dickner

I have recently published a review of this year’s ‘Canada Reads’ winner, to read it please go to my Examiner page.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, Canadian fiction

The best of Alice Munro

I just finished reading Alice Munro’s My Best Stories, a collection of short stories picked by the author. I wrote a book review that I posted on Examiner, but found that I had more to say about the book than I wanted to share in a review.

I enjoyed reading this collection, and found that I connected with many of the stories contained within. One I connected with more strongly than I would have liked. The first page of one of the stories (Friend of my Youth for anyone who is curious) described a woman who dreamed about her deceased mother and all of the emotions that this dream brought to the surface. I felt that I could have written this passage, it described my own feelings going through this exact situation. I had to put the book down and cry, at which point Scott threatened to kick Alice Munro because she upset me. He made me laugh, but I found that I was slightly angry as well, she hit a nerve and I wasn’t expecting it so I could not be prepared. On the other hand, at the same time I felt grateful. As hard as this section was to read, it was also deeply touching and reassuring to hear another person reacting to these dreams in the exact same fashion I had, even if it was a fictional character.

So, I am curious, has anyone else ever been punched in the face by a book like this? The book does not have to have brought up feelings of sorrow; have you ever read a passage that was so similar to your own experiences that you could have written it yourself? I will be interested to read any comments. . .

1 Comment

Filed under book review, Canadian fiction

The winner of Canada Reads 2010 has been revealed

Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, translated into English by Lazer Lederhendler has won CBC Radio One’s Canada Reads.

For more details, please click on my article or go to CBC’s Canada Reads 2010 website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Annual Event, Canadian fiction

A Canada Reads “shocker”

Please go to my article for the latest results of CBC Radio One’s annual literary competition, Canada Reads.

At the beginning of today’s broadcast, host Jian Ghomeshi referenced two online responses to Canada Reads: “Canada also reads” and “Canada reads independently”. Curious? I was.

“Canada Also Reads” is a copycat competition from The National Posts’ books blog, ‘The Afterword’. CBC’s Canada Reads has now removed both Generation X and Fall on Your Knees from the running, because they have already achieved a certain level of popularity. The National Post found all of the CBC panelists’ picks to be already too well known. So they created their own panel and chose books that they felt most Canadians had not already read. Their list contains:

  • Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
  • The Last Shot by Leon Rooke
  • Fear of Fighting by Stacey May Fowles
  • The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  • My White Planet by Mark Anthony Jarman
  • Yellowknife by Steve Zipp
  • Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
  • You and the Pirates by Jocelyne Allen

At the website you can read essays in defense of each of the books and then vote for your choice. The polls close March 15th and the winning book will be revealed the following day.

Can’t get enough literary competitions? Then check out “Canada Reads 2010 independently”. It is run by the blog “Pickle Me This,” by writer Kerry Clare. The books in the running are;

  • Moody Food by Ray Robertson
  • How Happy to Be by Katrina Onstad
  • Wild Geese by Martha Ostenso
  • Hair Hat by Carrie Snyder
  • Century by Ray Smith

Clare ranks and reviews the books on her blog and then invites readers to vote. The polls close Thursday March 11, at midnight.

Tomorrow I will post the winner of CBC Radio One’s Canada reads, so stay tuned. 

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, Canadian fiction

‘Generation X’ is the first be eliminated from Canada Reads 2010

The votes have been revealed and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture will not win Canada Reads 2010.

For a quick recap of today’s debate, please click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Annual Event, Canadian fiction

Canada Reads 2010 has begun.

For a link to my quick article, recapping the events of CBC Radio One’s literary battle so far, please click here.


Leave a comment

Filed under Annual Event, Canadian fiction, fiction