Lauri’s #CBR5 Review #3: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I founImaged this book for a $1 at last year’s library book sale and it has sat in on my “to-be-read” list ever since. In the meantime, I read last year’s captivating State of Wonder, by the author and finally last month it was time to taste another of Patchett’s unique flavor of magical realism.

Bel Canto is set in an unnamed South American country and begins the night of a Japanese businessman’s birthday bash at the Vice-Presidential mansion. The star of the night is Roxanne Coss, a famous American opera singer with whom Mr. Hosokawa, the businessman being wooed by the government of said country, is well, a bit obsessed. When revolutionaries storm the mansion and take the crowd hostage, the story turns into a tragicomic story of love found in the oddest of places.

Like State of Wonder, the novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief. The characters, from the youngest, lowliest guerrilla fighter to the vice-president, to an international array of businessmen, to the generals who have gotten themselves and their people into this mess, without an exception they are captivated by the American singer. But what captivated me, more, was the way the novel unexpectedly turned into a love story between the Japanese polyglot interpreter and a smart but quiet female guerrilla.

Patchett has a way of humanizing every character, giving them a detailed and fleshed-out history in just a page or two. We sympathize and empathize with all of the characters caught in an obvious no-win situation. Like the novels players, I wished that the book continued on and on as they loved and learned from each other. And though little attention is actually given in the novel to flesh out the desperation of the terrorists, that they would commit such acts as kidnapping, we know that in the end the government will always win.

Now to that ending. Without spoiling, I will say that there is an epilogue that feels tacked on and completely out of place with the rest of the novel. Unfortunately, once read you know it is there. I would like, however, to think of the novel ending before this. Even before the last few pages in the final chapter. That these characters still live in that limbo, dream-state where music, sport, learning and love reign free.

Arya of Winterfell’s #CBR5 Review #2: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

BelCantoIn case I’m developing any kind of readership, I’ll follow-up on my last review of Lolita – we hosted our book club this week and the conversations that came about were great.  Notable were the discussions about paedophilia through the ages, responsibilities of parenthood, and the mastery of Nabokov’s prose.  With the evidence that it was the latest I’ve been out at a weeknight book club, I certainly recommend this as a great book club selection.

Our book club chose Bel Canto by Ann Patchett for our next read, moving from “the only convincing love story of our century” to “the most romantic novel in years”.  Recognizing also the move forward from 1955 to 2001 and down the ranks of the ‘must read’ cannon,  I adjusted my expectations accordingly.  No need – I was wonderfully surprised by the beauty, skill, and poetry of Patchett.  Bel Canto evidenced the kind of writing that left me in want of multiple bookmarks to mark passages to re-read and, later, to copy out: “It had occurred to him in his life that he had the soul of a machine and was only capable of motion when someone else turned the key.”  And: “It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience…  There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.”  Yes, emphatically yes, her other titles are now on my radar.