Monday, March 24, 2008

Bel Canto - Ann Patchett

Title: Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 318

“If someone loves you for what you can do then it’s flattering, but why do they love you? If someone loves you for who you are then they have to know you, which means you have to know them.”

The Good:
In an unnamed South American country, a birthday party is being celebrated for a Mr. Hosokawa, one of the most wealthy men in the world. He's a workaholic and only agreed to attend after hearing his favourite opera singer, Roxanne Coss, would be there. The party is going well until interrupted by a group of terrorists. Their plan, to hold the President hostage and make demands upon the government. When they discover the leaders absence, the terrorists are forced to rethink their plan.

This is one of the most lyrical and poetic books I've read. The way I can best describe it and easy read, soft and quiet like a lullaby. It's fitting though as the title translates as "Beautiful Song" and the party is attended by one of the world's top opera singers. Music is what serves to connect everyone in this book and I loved the fact you didn't have to know anything about music to appreciate the story. Music, like math, is a universal language.

There are lots of characters in the book that could have ended up being stereotypes but Patchett ends up turning this idea on its head. Carmen may seem to be a "hot-blooded latin" on the outside but she's also a very dedicated student when she determined to learn. Hosokawa could have been stamped as a "workaholic Japanese businessman" until we learn he's a closet opera fanatic who savours those moments alone with his stereo system. My personal favourite was Kato for what he does for the house.

The Bad:
This book is much like "The Shipping News" in that the tension is undercut. We're told at the very beginning what happens to everyone in the house. This disappointed me because it swept the dramatic tension of the story under the carpet. But, this opened up another avenue for the story where the reader doesn't have to depend on this driving force. Instead, you're lulled into a slow passage of days that blend into one another and by the end, you're shocked out of this false sense of security that you share with the characters.

The Ugly:
The epilogue was very jarring to me. I wasn't expecting it and I don't think I agree with Patchett's decision, despite how it tied everyone together. You'll know I mean when you read and maybe you can explain why Patchett constructed it that way.

Overall I liked the book, despite the ending and would recommend it to people.


Nithin said...

I have to agree with you about the ending. It felt so different from the rest of the book.

Sandra said...

I really loved this story, I could hear it when the opera singer was performing. But what an unsatisfactory ending, you're right. It's still one of my favourites despite that. I enjoyed your review.