Sunday, July 10, 2011

BEATRICE AND VIRGIL - Yann Martel


I have progressed from one nightmare inducing book to another. This title also is a one-day read as it is only 240 pages. However, I need, really need someone to read this and discuss it with me. Martel's book The Life of Pi is one of my favorites and is written in allegory form telling a story of adversity, adventure, survival, and murder. There could be a blog entry on that book if I would reread it. But I digress. Keeping to his form Martel has given us an unusual Holocaust story by once again using an allegorical animal tale. I don't want you to think it is hokey or silly at all. It is so cleverly written with a tale within a tale.

The protagonist is Henry who is a successful but frustrated writer. After enjoying fame and comfortable income from his work he is having trouble selling his next idea to his publisher. He wants to write about the Holocaust. Not the typical stories that we are so familiar with, but one that perhaps touches less on the horrors and the dying but on stories of the everyday living and relationships during the Holocaust. Henry feels that the Holocaust has been condensed, repeated, and as he put it, “...packed into a suitcase. Art as suitcase, light, portable and essential.” He feels that this is a disservice to the people and that they have other stories to be told. However, he is told he is not Jewish and therefore not entitled to explore those issues, that the world needs only to see the horror so it will not be repeated.

Frustrated he moves his family to some unnamed city (I never was able to figure out where), changes his life-style and embarks on multiple new projects, none of which are related to writing. Henry meets another man also named Henry who is a taxidermist. The taxidermist is a very dark, older, and serious man who asks Henry to help him edit a play he has written. The play is centered around a relationship between Beatrice and Virgil, which happen to be in reality a stuffed donkey and howler money in the taxidermist's shop. The two begin their collaboration which lasts over several months.

As soon as I realized the play as allegory and that something dark was lurking around the edges I began to fear for Henry and I knew I didn't really want to know the true story behind the play. By then I was reading faster and couldn't put the book down even though I really sort of didn't want to know what was hidden there. When Henry began to realize who the taxidermist really was and what he was writing about I was so on edge I could hardly stand it. The sadness and shock of the ending came so quickly there was barely time to breathe.

Please read this book and tell me what you think. Only once in my life have I been face to face talking to someone whom I believed was truly an evil person. I don't want to think that I could be like Henry and have a relationship with a person and not see it if they were/are evil. I do not mean a person who has done bad things or someone who has differing morals than I do. I mean a truly dark individual who feels no remorse, empathy, or guilt. This is a wonderful, thoughtful, and ponderable read.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

ROOM - Emma Donoghue


I have retired as a school librarian so I will no longer be reporting on what middle and high school students are reading. Much is the pity but now I will read read read anything I want, whenever I want, and say what I like.

Room is on my Nook and I must admit it was handy for reading while traveling but I still prefer the convenience of a book in my hand. I miss the ability to flip pages looking for something I missed or glossed over when reading too fast. I also want some friend to read it so we can discuss but alas I cannot pass it along since it is on my digital reader. Tsk tsk. Anyway, this is one disturbing read. It is short so you can knock it off in one afternoon, unless you have to put it down and ponder like I do.

Jack, who is five, is the narrator of the story. His mother had been abducted seven years prior as a young girl. Ma and Jack are kept isolated in a 11X11 foot room which is in a shed behind “Old Nick's” house. Nick makes nocturnal visits while Ma keeps Jack hidden in the wardrobe. She refuses to let Nick interact with Jack or even to see him. She does her best to teach Jack lessons, play games with him, and make sure he gets exercise.

As the reader I pondered upon what Ma's thoughts and plans must have been and I tried to determine how she was going to accomplish what she wanted to. However, the narrative is by Jack and I was mesmerized from the beginning when he speaks, “Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. Was I minus numbers?" 


I thought it might be tiring experiencing a whole book through the mind of a small boy but the opposite was true. Room is all Jack has known and he is actually quite happy.  Eventually Ma and Jack find a way to be rescued. What happens after is nearly as fascinating as what went on before. How does a small one cope with a new world when he has lived in such deprivation? What happens when he is homesick for room which was his mother's prison. How does he go about sorting out all the things he has never before seen, smelled, tasted etc. and which others take for granted he should understand. How does Ma cope in the world when it is known what has happened to her and what does her family do with the knowledge that her son is the product of a perverted and demented man?

So much to think about. Making it equally creepy to read at this time is the fact that this very week we are watching the Jaycee Dugard story unfold in a Diane Sawyer interview and also when a young college student is currently missing. Both true stories with similarities to this novel.  
This author website is nice http://www.roomthebook.com/