Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett
318 pages
published: 2001
3.5 of 5 stars


Somewhere in South America at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening — until a band of terrorists breaks in, taking the entire party hostage.
But what begins as a life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different. 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. - from Goodreads 


Let me just talk about the writing for a while. The writing made this book. It was a unique and satisfying experience. While reading, I felt like I was floating through the air, weightless and worry free. Perhaps carried by butterflies. It was strange, surreal, and completely addicting. And while those butterflies carried me, seemingly over a beautiful jungle valley, I noticed a story playing out below and I watched avidly. I floated and hovered and the distance made the frightful situation beautiful. It wasn't always the people or the story that kept me picking up the book, but the glorious weightlessness.

That is not to say the the people and the situation were not interesting. I wanted to know how things would play out. I wanted to watch the interactions. But I was never emotionally invested to the point that I was scared for anyone, or couldn't handle with aplomb how I figured things would end. I was fascinated by my own response, so strange was my floating!

I worry that I have lost you all....waxing too metaphorical...but gall darn it was awesome.

On a more concrete level, this book was a subtle study of psychology, of how things change within people and within relationships when a new dynamic is enforced. I did sympathize with the terrorists (albeit from a distance) and rose and fell with the plight of the hostages. I felt the most for Gen. Gen was my favorite. Yet all the characters felt very real - everyone was terribly flawed, yet redeemable, including the terrorists. The ending was predictable, sudden, and harsh, but it really couldn't have ended any other way. The ending lent the whole story an air of believability and realism. It was good.

I didn't love everything though. I didn't appreciate finding myself rooting for a would-be adulterer. I took a step back at that point. I didn't buy into the idea that when an opera singer sings everything turns to roses - terrorists forgetting their goals, hostages of inconceivable amounts of time finding bliss, and uneducated teenagers swooning. Opera is actually an acquired taste, at least for most of us. I sure wouldn't have been swooning and forgetting I wanted to go home.

And of course, the epilogue was horrendous. Really. I'm still incredulous that that bit of bad taste was tacked on. I am trying to forget it exists and not have the whole book tainted beyond recovery. That icky.

At the end, I would recommend this book. If nothing else, to experience the writing. Maybe you will get carried by butterflies like I was. Enjoy the ride!


  1. I'm very interested to see what you mean and I'd like to experience the change in sympathies etc. But then, I'm not sure if I could handle the ending (or epilogue?)

  2. Great review. Doesn't sound for me though. I LOVE the title.

  3. Glad to hear you are aiming to forget that epilogue. I actually DID forget about when I suggested this for book club. And got shocked all over again when I read it the second time. I think our discussion tomorrow will focus a lot on whether or not it ruins the rest of the book. Should be interesting.

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed parts of it, but sorry the epilogue was so distasteful to you.

    This is one of my favorite books and I think it's just beautiful from cover to cover. The epilogue, too. I love that ending. But I may be in the minority there.

  5. What a beautiful way to describe a reading experience! I like it when reviews make me curious to check it out for myself. Thank you! (queen bee)

  6. I really got carried away by this book too, but I felt like I was there in the midst of the story not above it. Interesting how the same book can evoke entirely different experiences.

    Jessica @ The Bluestocking Society