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I have a 5-book history with Patchett. Bel Canto is a book that I volleyed in and out of my wish list for years. The premise seemed compelling: terrorists guerillas storm the home of a Latin American vice president while he is entertaining international dignitaries, including the beautiful opera diva Roxanne Coss and Japanese businessman Katsumi Hosokawa. During the following 4 month siege, separated from the world with the heightened sense of the fragility of life, the captives overcome their language barriers through music, i.e. Roxanne's opera, and delicate bonds of humanity bloom in spite of the hostile environment.
Patchett is intent on proving music is the magical universal language, setting out to develop this construct into a novel by casting her stage with a diversity of characters from various origins. In attempting to relate the participants' individual reactions as they are forced to face their mortality, examine their mental constitutions, Patchett takes on a production that is just too grand for the time frame of the book she intends. It soon becomes clear, as you try to understand the suddenly incongruous behaviors of the characters she first presesnted you with, that it's impossible to give the reader the necessary internal dialogues of these people which validates their behaviors; their actions, even under the circumstances, do not follow from the personalities she invited to the party -- the dilemma of the non-sequitor behavior. The plot's integrity may have held together better had Patchett foregone the internal dialogues and psychological digressions, had she allowed the reader to ponder the inner machinations. The relationships could have been believable had I been able to imagine their progression instead of being jerkily forced into bed...the psychological build up is what creates atmosphere, intrigue, and logical involvement.
So, I come again to my ususal criticism--the crux of my on-going struggle with Patchett...if I am being asked to suspend belief (which you must do when everything defies facts, reason and logic), give me great and beautiful flights of fantasy or anarchy--toy with logic, but don't mistake my eagerness to share your wonderful writing with an open ticket to negate intelligence. Creating a story that charmingly coaxes me to the *suspension of belief* is very different from insisting that I accept glaring flaws and deviations. I may be jaded, may have lost my naivete, but I can go with any flow as long as it doesn't tumble over boulders of glaring impracticality. But, you see what you think:
1) all of the men, including the terrorists, are immediately enamored of Roxanne and her operatic talent;
2) the terrorists willingly fly in tubs of $1000 eye cream from France, lemon-scented shampoo from Italy, and crates of sheet music for Roxanne;
3) the terrorists allow the hostages to spread out through the mansion, occupying the bedrooms, dressing from the generous host's closets;
4) the out-numbered hostages secretly conjugate under the noses of the vigilant terrorists, some even meeting in the pantry for sex;
5) a young guerilla (whom speaks only his native language) spontaneously bursts into perfect opera, going on to conquer German, French, and Italian operas in weeks under the tutelage of Roxanne (who knows none of his language);
6) the captors come to enjoy their captivity as well as their captors - cooking meals together, playing chess - soccer on the grounds..."Hostages vs. Terrorists";
7) the vice president, whose home has been overtaken, decides to adopt a young terrorist when the siege ends.......I've belabored the point. It began to warp into a bizarre summer camp for the international, multi-lingual elite.
I can't deny the beauty contained in the pages, the charm, the graceful flow of prose; I've always found Patchett's writing to be melodic, even at times ethereal, I understand her following. The scenes in this novel evoked beautiful stage settings; a world suspended in a snow globe, caught in graceful slow motion with the chaos of the outside world spinning around the center scene. There is a sense of romantic melancholy, the opera-like impending doom, barely camouflaged by all of the lovely farce. The narrator does an excellent job, and has a mellifluous voice that had me believing she herself could launch a successful music career. I enjoyed her presentation very much, and think she could be a part of any book choice I make in the future.
After 5 Patchett novels, I have to realize that no matter how intriguing Patchett's premises may seem to me, we are not a copacetic match. (The tree-gnawing hallucinatory pregnant elderly natives from State of Wonder still boggle my mind.) She may make beautiful music, but I can't get beyond the scratches and jumps to hear the song. [*Thank you for your time reading my opinion.]
169 of 193 people found this review helpful
I looked at this book about 20 times before finally deciding to download it. Although it received lots of other great reviews, I worried it would either be depressing or hard to get into. It was neither, and was extremely enjoyable -- I'd definitely give this one a thumbs up. One of those books that makes you examine what it means to live in the present moment and enjoy the beauty of every day.
46 of 52 people found this review helpful