Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (Jill)

Bel Canto
By Ann Patchett
Completed July 4, 2010

Imagine being held hostage for more than four months in a luxurious mansion in a South American country. Negotiations are at a stalemate, and the terrorists holding you are nothing more than a gang of armed teenagers led by three generals. You outnumber your captors, and they are pretty lax with their rules. Despite the odds, you never try to escape. Why? Because your life as a hostage allows you to become a new person – a person that you couldn’t be in your real life. It’s this theme that is the cornerstone to Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

The group was assembled to celebrate the birthday of a Japanese industrialist, Mr. Hosokawa. They were foreign dignitaries, priests and government officials – and the character that tied them all together was Roxane Coss, the American soprano who was the evening’s entertainment. Once the terrorists invaded the mansion, it was Roxane who called the shots. She used her lovely voice as collateral and was able to negotiate shampoo, food and other amenities for her fellow captives. In turn, she sang for the terrorists and hostages – and they all fell under the spell of Roxane’s music.

Spending months together blurred the lines between the terrorists and hostages. Together, they played chess, took reading lessons, cooked and made love. The hostages, mostly older men, showed fatherly affection to some of the terrorists. With this attention, the teens began to blossom. A boy could sing, a girl could read, another could play chess. They transformed from being jungle children to individuals with hearts and souls – all wanting love and approval.

Bel Canto runs at a slow pace, which probably won’t suit many readers. However, if you love character-driven stories, this is the perfect book for you. My only complaint was the epilogue, which tied together some unnecessary loose strings. Sometimes, stories just need to end on its tragic note – because that’s what happens in real life. Other than this small flaw, I enjoyed Bel Canto and look forward to reading more fiction by the talented Ann Patchett. ( )


Connie said...

Girl, I AGREE about the epilogue thing. We are not stupid. We know life is not perfect. And some of us even like using our imaginations! Let us!

I always find Patchett's books a little cold, but this one sounds so interesting I might give it a whirl. Thanks for this review!

Heather said...

I listened to the audio version and loved it. I agree, the ending should have been left off. didn't need that.

Jill said...

Heather - I am so glad you agree with me about the ending. It came out of left field and soured the book just a little for me.

Connie - This is my first Patchett book, but I really enjoyed her writing style. I think you should give this a try!

Sandra said...

I loved this story, one of my all time favourites. You're right about tying everything up though, it was the only sour note in the whole canto, so to speak. After an experience like that hostage taking, lives will be at loose ends for the survivors for some time afterward. We read adult fiction because we are not children who need the ever after explained.
I really enjoyed Patchett's The Patron Saint of Liars and Run (though not as much as Patron Saint).

A good review, thank you for your thoughts.

Lisa said...

I agreed with Sandra--one of my all-time favorites!

Buried In Print said...

I read this shortly after it was published and remember it as being a fantastic book; I had completely written out the epilogue over those intervening years!

Several reading years later, I only remembered the intensely quiet but compelling pace of the story and the gradual accumulation of emotion as I kept turning the pages. I read it in a very short amount of time, unable to leave it sit.