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Monday, November 12, 2007

Bel Canto

by Ann Patchett

I started this remarkable book in August because it was the selection for my f2f book club. Unfortunately I didn't finish it and I had to set it aside to finish up a few challenges. I picked it back up this month and finished the last half.

Bel Canto received the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2002. The term 'Bel Canto' refers to a style of singing. Since part of the book's focus is on a woman who mesmerizes her audiences with her beautiful singing the title is apropos.

The story is set in an unknown South American country. In an attempt to draw foreign money into their economy the country hosts a birthday party for a rich Japanese businessman with a famous opera singer providing the entertainment. In the middle of the party the guests are taken hostage by a radical militant group. All the woman but one, the opera singer, are released. The hostage situation drags on for over 4 months.

"What begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion." (from the back cover)

I really enjoyed my first Patchett book and look forward to reading more. She skillfully conveyed the feeling of complete closure from the real world. The hostages and terrorists both lived inside a bubble of space and time.
"The day no longer progressed in its normal, linear fashion but instead every hour circled back to its beginning, every moment was lived over and over again. Time in the manner in which they had all understood it, was over."

"Time could barely pull the second hand forward on the clock..."

". . . as if the world had become a giant train station in which everything was delayed until further notice."
A few other quotes that I liked. I won't share all the passages I marked.
"The quality of the gift depends on the sincerity of the giver. It also helps if the gift is something the receiver actually wants."

"At the moment one is sure that all is lost, look at what is gained."

"Step back," Roxane said, and shooed them away with her hand. "I'm going to want that air."

"It's easier to love a woman when you can't understand a word she's saying."

"He would not have chosen to draw attention to himself, and without his playing the story might have missed him altogether. But there was a need, a specific request, and so he stepped forward."

12 comments:

Kay said...

I enjoyed this book very much several years ago. Have you read her book entitled THE MAGICIAN'S ASSISTANT? I thought it was very good as well.

jenclair said...

I loved Bel Canto! I've also read Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, her nonfiction account of her friendship with Lucy Grealy. Haven't read The Magician's Assistant, that Kay recommends, but I've heard it is good as well.

Cassie said...

This sounds interesting. I had heard of it before but your review makes me want to read it. It's on the list now.

Stephanie said...

What a great review!! This is yet another book that I have on a shelf, but never picked up. Looks like I should!

SuziQoregon said...

This has been on my "maybe" list for a while now. Thanks for the recommendation.

Charley said...

I started Bel Canto in October and set it down for other books, but your review makes me want to pick it up again. I remember enjoying the line, "It's easier to love a woman when you can't understand a word she's saying." Hmm...

Les said...

This is one of my all-time favorites! I need to post a review so I can look back on some of my favorite passages. I read it several years ago, but have a review somewhere around here. Thanks for reminding me of this great author. I need to read more by her. I enjoyed The Magician's Assistant, but haven't read anything else but these two.

Literary Feline said...

I haven't yet read a book by this author, but I do have this one on my shelf. I may have to make it one of my TBR Challenge books next year so I can be sure and fit it in. Great review!

Lynne said...

I just read this a couple of weeks ago. I didn't really care for it, but I didn't dislike it either. It stayed with me for a while after reading.

Framed said...

Mmmm, this one has gone on and off my list several times. It sounds good and then it doesn't. I think I will pass for now. Just until I get caught up ;)

hellomelissa said...

so what you're saying is that it's time for me to pull this book down off my tbr shelf?

LisaMM said...

It's interesting that a couple people who commented also put the book down in the middle in favor of other books, then went back to it. I put it down 200 pages in and have zero interest in picking it back.