Monday, August 17

Bel Canto

Worth: Photobucket

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 lovely 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 this one is unique I think, and well-told at that, is enough for a reader.

Now, you need to suspend disbelief. If you look too closely and think too much you will see the situation as improbable and dismiss the novel. However, if you allow yourself to fall into the realm of fiction, Patchett does a grand job of making it as believable as it needs to be. It seems like the soap opera that is watched throughout the story by some characters reflects on how we are meant to read this. I think if she took it a little further into a realm more outside realism, she would have 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 - Opera, and in simplicity - 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.

Once I was caught, Patchett reeled me in and I couldn't put it down. I was eager to know what would become of the characters' relationships, personal transformations, and new discoveries. It made me gasp in shock and proclaim a silent 'no!', so that's good story telling.

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 quite 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 satisfying climax (perhaps needing a few more paragraphs in lieu of the epilogue).**

I recommend it. Nothing sublime, but highly enjoyable. It's a good choice for summer reading. Took me just a few days. Even with a teething baby.

* That and the several minor flawed facts shouldn't have won this novel an award.
** I actually read an uncorrected proof copy. Is that epilogue kept in? Do they ever mention the name of the host country?

Currently reading: North and South, Gaskell


  1. I just ran through my bookshelves looking for my copy to check out the ending for you but can't find it... I think I read it when it was newly published, enjoyed it and went on to read another of her novels, The Magician's Assistant.

  2. Yes - I read the Magician one too, although to be honest, it wasn't for me; happy to pass my copy on to you if you'd like?

  3. Ooh, thanks EW, wait till I get back to UK, cheaper.

  4. Thanks for looking willow :)

  5. wow, you are busy, I will have to catch up with you when I return from vacation...I read this long ago, but really loved it...but more from an intellectual perspective as well, I guess...I remember liking it for probing morality, and perception, and roles, and the ways we label good and evil and all that...I don't still have my copy so not sure on the epilogue

  6. I just stumbled upon your blog-- this one and Holistic Mama are great! I'm bookmarking them. I just bought Bel Canto, so I'm curious to see if I have a similar response.

  7. Another book I really enjoyed. I was actually shocked by the epilogue, never saw that coming. You are right about it. But I enjoyed the story so much up to that point. Thanks for reviewing it.


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