Beatrice & Virgil & Ripped Off Readers

Last month Erin Fitzgerald was kind enough to send me a copy of Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel's latest self-proclaimed masterpiece. Here is the author himself telling you what it's about (don't mind that he comes off as a massive douche; he's just very successful):


Last year the New York Times reported that Yann Martel got a $3 million deal for the book:

After a monthlong auction Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, one of the world’s largest publishers, bought the rights to publish Mr. Martel’s third novel, as yet untitled, in the United States sometime next year. Like “Life of Pi,” the new book is an allegory — this time about the Holocaust — involving animals. It relates the story of an encounter between a famous writer and a taxidermist who is writing a play that features dialogue between a donkey and a monkey, both imprinted on a shirt.

Of course, in the article Martel declined to talk about his advance, saying, “Frankly, with all the years it took to write this book, if you amortize it out, it’s not as much as one would like it to be.”

Uh-huh. But here's the thing. The book itself is about 200 pages. With the font size and layout, I'd be surprised if the word count is anywhere over 60,000 words. So yes, it took him over seven years to write that many words, but the sad part? Not many of those words are very good. You'd think if the publisher was paying him close to $3 million (which, let's be honest here, is a nice chunk of change) they might -- oh, I don't know -- have an editor actually go through the MS and fix it up. And who knows, maybe they did, but the book I read felt like it had been written by a high school student -- and not even an above average high school student.

Also, there are seven pages of Beatrice and Virgil discussing what a pear is. Seven pages!!! I'll admit, I skimmed most of this book, and I'm glad I did. The main problem I had with the story is that the author tries to play up this great mystery of what the taxidermist's play is supposed to mean, while almost every reader going into the book already knows it's supposed to be about the Holocaust. That's like going to see The Sixth Sense already knowing that Bruce Willis is dead (sorry if I spoiled that for anyone; if I did, watch Stir of Echoes instead, it's a much better film).

The book has gotten panned pretty much everywhere. This makes me happy for some strange reason. In fact, the only reason I had any desire to even crack open the book was because of how bad it was supposed to be. And you know what? It's even worse than they say. I recommend everyone read it just to see how bad it is. I'm going to be talking more in depth about negative reviews sometime later, but for now, here's how Martel deals with them (notice how he compares himself to Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Dante):