----------- soulful transformation through the stars. -----------

15 Jun 2011

Bel Canto {book}


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.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett was an intriguing read. It actually took me almost half of the novel to get drawn in. The whole situation was of little interest to me. Yet Patchett's writing - nothing amazing but a nice easy style that is very engaging - kept me going.

It wasn't her writing nor her character development that made this one enjoyable to me. It was the story. That simple. Sometimes, a good story, and well-told at that, is enough for a reader.

Now, you need to suspend disbelief. If you over-think it you will see the situation as improbable and dismiss the novel. I think that if she had taken it a little further into magical-realism perhaps, she would have had a better work.

While the story seems to be about a hostage situation, it isn't really. What drove it forward, what engaged me, were the relationships. It's a novel about being human, even the terrorists. It's about finding beauty and joy in the sublime, such as Opera, and in simplicity, such as smelling a good soap.

If what a person wants is his life, he tends to be quiet about wanting anything else. Once the life begins to seem secure, one feels the freedom to complain.

It's about stepping out of our (often confining but ultimately self-imposed) roles. It's about doing what we love, what comes naturally. It's about being in the moment. Yet all expressed in uncomplicated story-telling. Which appeals to many, but I need something meatier.

I think the strength of this novel is in it's most prominent idea, the beauty of the arts and their ability to transform our spirits. But I feel that a writer of better skill and talent would have ensured that the idea of the sublime reached its higher potential. The idea is beautiful, I can't bring myself to call the novel beautiful.

If there was ever such a thing as a second chance, he would have his coffee outside in the morning.

But the epilogue? Rip it out. What complete nonsense. What was she thinking? Almost ruined what was a reasonably satisfying climax.*

I do recommend it. Nothing sublime, but enjoyable. It won an award but I don't see it. Still, it's a good choice for Summer reading. I would suggest a library or used copy.

* I actually read an uncorrected proof copy. Is that epilogue kept in? Do they ever mention the name of the host country?


  1. its actually quite a dissapointment really, when the idea is so good but the writting doesn`t strech up to it. and i get uppset when the epiloque is bad. i read recently Tha Angels Game of Carlos Ruiz Zaffon and i could not believe the ending... was just not good enough. But his first book The Shadow of the Wind was a wonderful, dark, poetic, unforgetable story.... i strongly recomment it ( as a winter reading though ). anyway i might give bel canto a try : )

  2. I don't know, too many great books out there, who has the time to read a mediocre one, right?! I guess it also depends on the availability, we read what we can get our hands on.

  3. Oh it does sound like an interesting story, pity about the downfalls. I might put it on my to read list for one day when I need something different.

  4. Thanks demie, i did enjoy Shadow of the Wind, a bit OTT but enjoyable. Shame his other didn't match up.

    yes, i'm with you on that Adrienne, too many good books to bother with the mediocre.

    hi Megan

  5. The story does sound quite interesting. I may have to check it out. In any case, I love what you've written about the power of art and the joy in appreciating simple things in life. I will try to keep both in mind today.

  6. Literature post :-) I'm intrigued to read this one just for the story.

  7. Seems like this one was a bit of a mixed bag -- the story is intriguing but the execution was a bit lacking?
    I have her new book, State of Wonder in an ARC; I have never read her before, but am anxious to give her a try.

    I wanted to respond by email to your comment on my most recent post, but I didn't see your email address.

  8. Time slips through my hand. Not sure how to keep up with it all. I wanted to participate in Joy Pockets this month and feel it is too late now. Hopefully next time.
    I never got into Bel Canto, but really enjoyed "Truth & Beauty". I still remember it very well, even though I read it several years ago. This book has also very mixed reviews.

  9. I'm going to have to try her other one if I come across it.

  10. Wonderful review, Monica! I loved this line that you have quoted - "If what a person wants is his life, he tends to be quiet about wanting anything else. Once the life begins to seem secure, one feels the freedom to complain." Your observation "It's about finding beauty and joy...in simplicity, such as smelling a good soap" made me remember Pablo Neruda's poem 'Ode to a bar of soap' :) Sorry to know that you didn't like the ending of this book. I am tempted to try this one.