Beatrice & Virgil

Henry’s second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name, had done well.

The most recent Yann Martell. Finding a snappy pop culture reference and/or worn out cliché that can cover this book will probably cost me more time than reading the book itself did.

Beatrice and Virgil are not only characters from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, but since Martell’s novel, also a donkey and a monkey. They are characters in a play that the protagonist, sort-of-ex writer Henry, chances upon. The play and accompanying letters lead him to a taxidermist and -for Henry- a complete unknown world. At first Henry is charmed and can appreciate this road to an exciting life, although the taxidermist and play-writer is a bit of a weirdo. But slowly signs crop up that the taxidermist isn’t a weirdo in a nice, socially-accepted way and Henry has to re-evaluate his enthusiasm.

While the previous book I reviewed was clearly from the category of Easy To Review, this book catapults me into Think About It. Beatrice & Virgil is (deceivingly) colorful, bright, detailed (Martell puts you inside the taxidermy store), aching and uncomfortable.  There are no chapters and little space to come up for air. The faster you read it, the more time you spend on it, the more it pulls you in and eats you up until it drops the climax in your lap. Do with it as you will, but here it is.

Read this book? Yes. You are brought into someone else’s life, into someone else’s experience without plodding through hundreds of pages or needing all of your concentration. Book some time and brain space for it? Definitely.

Beatrice & Virgil, Yann Martel, Canongate 2010

Sanctus: Revelation or devastation?

A flash of light filled his skull as it struck the rock floor.

Simon Toyne’s Sanctus was categorized by the library as detective/thriller. It could also be categorized in the Indiana Jones/National Treasure category, to get the first pop culture reference out of the way. In this book we have secret sects, evil monks, Siamese twins, something referring to immortality and yes – we cross half the world in less than 500 pages.

Toyne manages to introduce a lot of characters, maybe even too many. By the end of the book I still only cared about three of them and his plain description of every character (red/dark/black wind jacket, long hair) doesn’t make it easier to recognize in whose chapter we are this time. Besides that there are some scenes that wouldn’t go through National Treasure’s kid-friendly ratings, using detailed wound descriptions and a fleshed-out visit to the morgue.

Am I looking for problems here? Just a bit. Because besides these two points, Sanctus is entertaining, throws some lovely conspiracies around, gives you small surprises and not to be forgotten: is very accessible to read. So grab it from your library (or Amazon, if detective/adventure/travel is completely your reading kink) and enjoy. And try hard to remember how it exactly went a week after you finished it, because this is a story that won’t stay with you for long.

Sanctus: Revelation or devastation?, Simon Toyne,  Harper 2011