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.