There's probably nothing harder to do than write about a subject which has not only been written to death, but which is also is some manner considered highly sacrosanct. Even more perplexing is when the subject is about the unspeakable horrors that humans have proven themselves capable of inflicting upon each other and the world. In today's world we are so inundated with images and information that the mere recounting of events has little or no effect on us. Hearing the same story over and over again, instead of increasing our disgust, deadens our emotional reaction and we are no longer able to take in the real implications of what's being described.
Yann Martel brings that issue home with his new release, Beatrice and Virgil, published by Random House Canada on April 6, 2010 (April 13 in the US). Henry is a successful author whose latest story idea is rejected by his publishers; he moves with his wife to start a new life where he has little or nothing to do with writing. The book Henry's publishers had rejected was his attempt to find a way to tell the story of the Holocaust in a new way. He worked for five years creating in reality two books: an essay and a work of fiction. In order to accommodate both under the same roof his idea was to make a flip book — a work with two covers which the reader could start from either end and when finished with the first part, flip the book over and then start reading the second part in the other direction.
It was running head first into the brutal realities of publishing - he was taken to task by editors, publishers, and book sellers over lunch as to all the reasons it wouldn't work - that precipitated his exodus from both the city he lived in and writing. However, when he receives in the mail an obscure short story by the 19th century French writer Gustave Flaubert and an excerpt from a play that his correspondent has written along with a simple note saying he had read and enjoyed Henry's novel and needed his help, Henry was intrigued enough to contact the man.