At the beginning of Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil, Henry introduces the concept of the flip book: ‘a book with two front doors, but no exit’. The fiction will start at one end and the non-fiction essay at the other.
Meeting with his publishers at the London Book Fair, he is told that his idea for such a book on the Holocaust had not gone down well: ‘Henry was in high spirits. He thought they were a wedding party. In fact, they were a firing squad’. The book will not fit in the bookshop; readers will not understand; they keep asking ‘what is your book about?’
The group of publishers, supported by an academic and a bookseller, agree: ‘the idea of the flip book was an annoying distraction, besides being commercial suicide. The whole was a complete, unpublishable failure’.
In the current climate where alternative facts are more than ever confused with fake news and fictional events, perhaps some publishers will think again about the flip book and its possible place in explaining politics, history and current affairs.
Yann Martel, Beatrice and Virgil, 2010