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.