Bel Canto

Bel Canto cover Title: Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
Year: 2001
Pages: 318
Genre: Fiction
Count for Year: 38

How I discovered

As I might have mentioned previously, I found this on the bargain book rack at the local bookstore. I had never heard of Patchett previously.

The setup

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening — until a band of gun-wielding tourists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages from different countries form unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion…and cannot be stopped.[emphasis mine]
— from the back of the book

What I thought

My wife read this book before I did and highly recommended it to me. As she was reading, she was telling me how great it was and that I “had to read this book.” So with that kind of endorsement, how could I refuse?

Up front, and to end the suspense I left from my last post, I hate to say this, but I didn’t like the book as much as she did. I did enjoy parts of it, but I knew from the start that this would not have a happy ending. After all on page 13, Patchett writes the following:

It was the unspoken belief of everyone who was familiar with this organization and with the host country that they were all as good as dead, when in fact it was the terrorists who would not survive the ordeal.

So why read on? I guess one would say to see how the story played itself out, like the movie Titanic. I mean, we know how this is going to end, but it’s the journey there, yadda, yadda, yadda — at least, that is what we as readers are supposed to think.

In this case, the journey was slow and while not ponderous, it was, and even though, I know this is not a word, “ponder-full-of-itself.” As readers, we are supposed to ponder what happened as the captors and the hostages bonded — to the point where a couple of the characters actually fall in love, even one hostage with one of his captors, a 17-year-old girl. We are supposed to be filled with wonder at the possibilities. This was the box into which I felt like I was being forced by Patchett, to the point where I’m supposed to believe that even statutory rape is all right in the cause of love of the written and spoken word. The character who “falls in love” with the 17-year-old girl is a translator for Mr. Hosokawa and is teaching her English.

I have to say I didn’t buy it. While I did enjoy parts of the ride, for example, the way Patchett set up the story, I didn’t enjoy the conclusions or that to be honest, the lack of action. Maybe that’s the “guy” in me. I wanted a little bit of Diehard, but got too much of a romance novel. Because of those parts of the ride I did enjoy, I won’t bomb this book, but:

In my Final Analysis: I give it a 7 out of 10, because it didn’t hold up for me, with the ending seeming contrived. It wasn’t The Book of the Dumb Cow, I mean, The Book of the Dun Cow, but it was close.

Another view:

7 responses to “Bel Canto

  1. Pingback: Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett | Linus's Blanket

  2. Don’t know if you’ve heard but this book was optioned for an opera. I listened to an interview with the author a year or two ago and she mentioned it then.

  3. Pingback: The Sunday Salon with Ron Hansen, M.T. Anderson, Thomas Wolfe and ME! « Unfinished Person

  4. I read this a number of years ago and liked it a lot. I recently read another book of hers called Run–not as good in my opinion, but each to their own.

  5. I’ll have to put this one on the back burner then if it’s not great – thanks for saving me a read when I could read other things that are better.
    Thanks, too, for the comment about Dr. Brensinger – Messiah grad, huh? What year? I’m Class of ’97

  6. I understand. Though I loved the book, I know that it does not appeal to everyone. One helpful suggestion that I got from another reader is to analyze the book as if that final chapter had never happened. This helped me see some interesting insights I hadn’t seen before.

  7. Oh, poo on you.

    The thing I loved about the book is that it lulls you into a false peace…the ‘paradise’ they create cannot last. But for a little while, you forget. It made me think about destinies, how lives could be so different given different circumstances…about what really separates and unites us. Maybe I had a case of Stockholm Syndrome reading it, but it enchanted me good and proper and, in that, succeeded in its intended purpose.