Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Bel Canto is a beautiful novel. I’ve never read Ann Patchett before, but I quickly became infatuated with her storytelling over the course of this novel. To be completely honest, this was a 5 star read until the last ten pages. I shouldn’t have been so blindsided by the climactic events. The story does, after all, revolve around opera. But I was indeed blindsided. I feel slightly scarred. It was still a great book, and one that I might even read again someday, but the list of people to whom I would recommend it shrunk significantly in those last pages.
“Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. Don’t you think? It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world’s greatest soprano. Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.”
In an unnamed South American country, a birthday party is being held in the home of the nation’s vice president. Mr. Hosokawa, the Japanese businessman who is being celebrated, would never have attended if not bribed with a private performance by his favorite opera singer, Roxane Coss. Immediately after the final notes are sung, every party attendee is taken hostage by a terrorist group. The terrorists invaded with the very distinct purpose of kidnapping the president and holding him for ransom in order to free their compatriots from prison. There’s one snag in this plan: the president isn’t in attendance. It just so happens that Mr. Hosokawa’s birthday fell on a Tuesday night. The president catches up on his soap opera on Tuesday nights, and even such a distinguished and economically important an event will not draw him away from his television on this night. The terrorists find themselves with over a hundred hostages instead of the one important hostage they sought.
“If someone loves you for what you can do then it’s flattering, but why do you love them? If someone loves you for who you are then they have to know you, which means you have to know them.”
This is such a deep dive of a character study. So many people from so many backgrounds are kept together for an extended period of time, outside of the professions that have defined them and without even the ability to chat with the others without the help of the lone translator in the group. The impact that the language barrier has on the group is immense. And yet, at the same time, it means absolutely nothing. What can bind up together during such a time? Music. Music is the language that everyone on the planet shares, no matter the language in which the lyrics are written. The way Patchett portrayed music and its importance spoke to me on such a deep level. With the aid of music, we see love cross the barrier of language, and it is beautiful to behold. I truly believe that music is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and Patchett conveyed that very well.
“She sang as if she was saving the life of every person in the room.”
It’s amazing what strange circumstances to which you can adjust yourself. Even when you find yourself in terrible situation you never could’ve expected, sometimes you can find immense beauty in weirdness and even discomfort. And you can keep learning no matter where you are. Education plays a fanscinating role in this book. Not only how it impacts the life you live, but also how thirsty minds can find ways to learn in any situation.
“It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.”
Bel Canto is a brilliant novel, even if I didn’t care for the ending. Honestly, as much as I disliked those final events, I could have respected Patchett’s choice far more had she not tacked on an epilogue that felt like a weak attempt to pacify fans by giving them a semblance of a happy ending. If you’re someone who can handle fictional tragedy and uncomfortable situations, and especially if you love music in literature as much as I do, I recommend picking up Bel Canto. Just brace yourself as you near those final pages.
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