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.
Ann Patchett has written a novel that is as lyrical and profound as it is unforgettable. Bel Canto is a virtuoso performance by one of our best and most important writers.
"Patchett can be counted on to deliver novels rich in imaginative bravado and psychological nuance. This fluid and assured narrative...demonstrates her growing maturity and mastery of form." (Publishers Weekly) "Mixing art and politics can have unexpected results, but rarely are they so poignant....[Anna Fields'] performance is the essence of Bel Canto, easy, pure of tone, with an agile, precise vocal technique." (AudioFile)
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.]
172 of 196 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.
47 of 53 people found this review helpful
This book did not rivet me or make me excited to listen and hear what would happen next, but because of all of the good reviews and awards by the experts I stuck with it. I decided it was worth my listening time to wait for the payoff at the end. I knew there would be no plot surprise, because the author told me at the beginning of the book what was going to happen, so I was left wondering what was going to be the "other payoff." This is the deepening understanding that comes through spending hours with a group of characters that finally in the end show you something new about yourself. Unfortunately for me that did not happen. However, I did like all of the characters and I think the author painted a clear picture of most of her leads. I cared about them and I felt the pathos of what happened to them. I still was thinking of the book a couple of days later. But can I say that I enjoyed my listening experience? Maybe, but I don’t think it is one of my favorites.
Going back to the rave reviews and literary awards. I can see that the union between her subject matter (opera) and her stylistic form was very well crafted. This form makes for a great discussion in a book review. However, is that a reason to highly recommend a book to readers? No.
A suggestion... If these characters did more than sit around a house for four months getting to know each other the plot would have been more interesting.
35 of 42 people found this review helpful
Magnificent, Magnifico, Magnifique-- I'm not one to use superlatives yet wish I was fluent in Japanese, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Swedish...because this...canto...I almost hate to trivialize it by calling it anything other spans multiple cultures and sensibilities with a grace and and authenticity I rarely find in any book, any author. The author sets the conditions for the story early on, she tells you what will happen...yet it is impossible not to read, to become enraptured with the interlocking stories and characters as they reveal themselves to their most unlikely counterparts (artists, diplomats, terrorists...). The author's pitch is perfect all the way through, she manages a flawless denouement, Brava, Brava, Brava!
The narrator is perfectly matched to the book, I believed her in every character, gender, accent she personified - wonderful job on her part.
I hate to keep spewing these superlatives, but I think it's the kind of book that, if people read the summary of the plotline, they might shy away from -- so I hate to divulge...anything, just urge others to listen, it is my personal "read of the year."
17 of 21 people found this review helpful
This is the best audiobook I've ever listened to. I was spellbound by it. Anna Fields doesn't just narrate the story she becomes a dozen different people - most of them men! This is the kind of book that makes you wish for a traffic jam so you can listen longer. Of course, Patchett's story itself is compelling. The building of relationships between the hostages and the terrorists is perfectly built. By the end you've become a victim of Stockholm Syndrome yourself. I've recommended this book to just about everyone I know.
27 of 34 people found this review helpful
Maybe I love Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto so much because my father used to be an opera singer; maybe it’s because I found the story so compellingly original; but maybe, and most likely, it’s because it was recommended to me in my first week on the job here at Audible by my two favorite colleagues. But no matter the reason, this is a must-listen based on the late Anna Fields’ lyrical performance alone.
26 of 33 people found this review helpful
It's not often you find a book that has an excellent plot AND reads like poetry. I thought every sentence from this book was worth treasuring and pausing over, but I was so interested in seeing what was going to happen, that I rushed through it. Fortunately, I'll enjoy listening to it a second time just as much.
I loved all the well-developed characters, and it was so refreshing to read a book with such a unique premise.
This book had the effect of making me want to appreciate to the fullest every day of the rest of my life.
12 of 15 people found this review helpful
Reading reviews,I understand this novel isn't for everyone, however, it struck me in the heart and has remained with me since I finished it-I haven't wanted to begin another audio book because I'm still living with the people in the Vice-President's house.
I suppose it is a Stockholm Syndrome story at heart, but along with this easy to condemn psychological reaction is a group of sub plots, each detailing the intimate details of a group of people taken out of their usually busy lives and thrown together for months due to mis-planning of a group of Generals who don't realize they have grabbed for more than is possible.
There are several star individuals, but my favorites are the young soldiers Carmen and Cesar-both innocent young teens who have been exposed to a part of the world they never imagined. Carmen to true love and Cesar to the opera as sung by Roxanne Cos, a renown singer brought to this house and kept as a prisoner who decides to practice every day.
Gen, the translator is the catalyst that binds all 50 people, who speak many different languages. He is written in a delightful manner and really pulls things together.
The story moves slowly, which will irritate those who want action in their stories I think, but for me it was perfectly paced. Anna Fields did a superb job of accents and detailing different characters. She puts each of the characters personalities clearly into her reading.
I don't give 5 stars often but this novel rates that in my opinion. If a complex plot is to your liking, one with many characters and details, you will probably appreciate this story.
I sure enjoyed it.
20 of 26 people found this review helpful
I've listened to dozens of audio books and this is the best one ever! The characters, very richly drawn right from the beginning, grow and change in surprising ways. The narration, complete with accents, was done beautifully. It never distacts and serves only to enhance the authors words. Even though the author wants you to know the inevitable outcome long before it happens, you will wait breathlessly to see how she writes about it. The author is masterful in her descriptions of everything from the state of mind of a female terrorist to the imprint left in the grass by 2 lovers.
35 of 46 people found this review helpful
I find myself thinking about the Bel Canto characters as I fall asleep and when I wake up....and then I have to remind myself that they are not real people. I prefer non fiction to fiction, but this novel grabbed me in a way that was utterly unexpected and moving.
After listening to (and loving) Truth and Beauty, I decided to give Ms. Patchett's fiction a try. What can I say? Her writing feels like a personal gift to be treasured forever.
13 of 17 people found this review helpful