Saturday, April 17, 2010

An Odyssey Staff Favorite--Yann Martel!

April 15 is a date most Americans dread, but 2010 is a year that I, for one, will have happy memories of Tax Day. I was fortunate enough to meet Yann Martel at the NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association) offices in Arlington, MA, who was in town doing an event at a Boston-area bookstore. Michael Kindness, one of our sales reps from Random House, arranged for the opportunity for us to get books signed, so while the Odyssey Bookshop wasn't able to book Martel for an event of our own, we could still get signed books for our customers, particularly those in our First Editions Club. (Give us a call or visit our website at to order a signed one--limited quantities!)

Yann Martel signs his new book. To the tune of about 350 copies!

I eagerly devoured Beatrice and Virgil a couple of months ago in the Advance Reader's Editionformat, having loved Martel's previous novel. As with Life of Pi, Martel puts animal allegory to good use again, layered over a postmodern meta-fiction structure. Ostensibly about a writer named Henry who has lost his creativity after hitting it big with a critically-acclaimed AND commercially successful novel, the book is actually an exploration of how inadequate words are to describe the Holocaust. In fact, Martel suggests, the only way one can convey the true horrors of this world is by coming at them obliquely, not directly. This novel is so haunting and provocative that I could not stop thinking of it for days.

You know how it feels impossible to describe the look, feel, and taste of a food another person has never encountered? There is a seven page passage of this novel that will serve as the ruler against which all future food descriptions will be measured and found wanting, in which Virgil (a Howler monkey) describes to Beatrice (a donkey) *exactly* the various aspects that give a pear its "pearness." This passage alone stands out, but there are dozens more, scattered throughout, that highlight Martel's facility with prose that is beautiful, concise, and often cutting.

By the time I got to the epilogue, the Games for Gustav section, I felt utterly sucker-punched. I read the Games section hurriedly straight through the first time. The second time I paused and considered the implications of each game through Virgil's & Beatrice's eyes. The third time I read it, tears coursed down my cheeks, as the utter impossibility of answering each question of the games really began to sink in. This book is as serious, agonizing, visceral, and immediate an encounter with the Holocaust as I've ever experienced, in book or film format.

Photo of Yann Martel and me--about 3/4 of the way through the signing.

~Emily Crowe

1 comment:

NEIBA said...

Great blog Emily. And our office looks pretty nice!