Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil, The Meaning of the British Landscape by Francis Pryor and Robert McCrum’s Globish

Beatrice and Virgil is such an artless, poorly constructed book that some critics have suggested it goes beyond the risible to become actively offensive.” Matt Thorne in the Independent was forthright about Yann Martel’s new novel: “Martel and his protagonist may revel in the infantile, but there seems to be nothing actively malicious in his intentions . . . Perhaps his structure is sneakier than it appears.” David Robson in the Sunday Telegraph was also severe: “Where other writers get repetitive strain syndrome from pounding at their keyboards all day, Martel suffers from repetitive allegory syndrome. The new book simply does not hold together. It does not charm, it grates . . . Readers with a serious interest in the Holocaust will continue to read Primo Levi. Readers who enjoy fables about donkeys will stick to Winnie the Pooh. Only the very gullible will swallow this awkward hybrid.” According to Aravind Adiga, “There is an Animal Farm that makes us think both about the Holocaust and the world we live in screaming to be written. Beatrice and Virgil, however, is not that book”; it does “nothing to deepen our understanding of the Holocaust or ourselves”.

Paul Johnson took up much of his review in the Spectator of The Meaning of the British Landscape by Francis Pryor on the author’s belief in global warming and support for wind turbines, but concluded: “There is no period in our own history in which Pryor does not have something interesting and new . . . to say. He often looks behind the received version. Pity he doesn’t bring a similar scepticism to the statements and statistics of the Warmers.” For Margaret Drabble in the Daily Telegraph, Pryor “excels at walking us through the Mesolithic or the more accessible iron age, interrogating the lie of the land and pondering the rituals and social hierarchies of the people who inhabited early Britain . . . this book makes an excellent companion guide”. Adam Nicholson in the Scotsman hailed Pryor as “a striding late Victorian figure, the archaeologist-farmer-scholar who loves this country in the marrow of his bones. Landscapes for him are dreams, fossilised visions, moments of ambition, enterprise and nurture, caught in time like flies in amber. It is a deeply empathetic view, and as a result this huge and magisterial history of the British landscape, which dares to embrace the big sweep of everywhere over the whole of time, turns out to be utterly accessible.”

“His book is excitingly energetic. He leaps with polymathic abandon from one discipline to another: lexicography, history, demography, linguistics, reportage.” So wrote Jonathan Meades in the Daily Telegraph of Robert McCrum’s Globish: How English Became the World’s Language: “Throughout, the volume of detail is startling.” Henry Hitchings in the Financial Times found the book to be “crisply readable”: “The range of reference is impressive. Yet while the exposition is authoritative, the balance of the book does not feel quite right. There could usefully have been more about the relationship today between language and globalisation and less about literary history.” For Colin Fraser in Scotland on Sunday, “Where Globish succeeds is in its good-humoured history of the evolution of the English language”, but: “There is little exploration of the literary or cultural potential of this economic English, the Globish heard in any international hotel lobby. Instead, he delivers something which inexplicably succeeds, rather like the language he patriotically champions.”

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