Monday, April 21, 2008

Bel Canto

Book: Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
Like/Don't Like: Like - with a sigh, but I'm not going to tell you what kind of sigh.

I love sweet peas. They are my favorite flower and I look forward to spring every year mostly because there will be sweet peas in my parent's back yard. They're just so beautiful and delicate. And they're the sweetest smelling flower around. Admit it. The sweet pea season only lasts for about a month. Maybe a little longer if we're lucky. But I never think of the end of the sweet peas. Them not making it beyond May never ruins my enjoyment.

It was the same with this book. I read the flap and instantly thought this can't possibly end well, even though there were a few moments of foreshadowing that it could, just possibly, turn out exactly as I hoped it would. I'm not giving anything away. You'll get the same feeling too. A group of foreign diplomats and business men and one opera singer are held hostage in a large home for 4 months. Those things never end with everyone happy. But knowing that it most likely wouldn't end well never once ruined my enjoyment of the story because it was sweet and delicate and beautiful. And I wished, like the characters, that it would go on for a little while longer (although I have to say that reading a 300 page book after reading a 1200 page book was like a glorious vacation for my brain with palm trees and sunshine and tan cabana boys bringing cool glasses of water.)

I think I've mentioned here before how it bothers me when a book jumps from one character voice to the next. I have found that few authors do it very well and instead of giving me lots of different points of view it just gives me a headache. So I think that the greatest accomplishment in this book is that she managed to make it not about 1 or 2 people but about 58 and doing it without any kind of style shift or page break. She would change to a different character mid-paragraph and half the time I wouldn't even notice. It became their story instead of his or her story. Which makes the point of the whole story have more relevance. That beauty and music and love make people happy, even when they don't speak the same language. And even when half of them are holding guns at the the other half.


ME said...

I read this book for a book club and was one of a handful who actually finished and one of two who liked it. I really liked it and I know what the sigh is for.

Have you read "Shadow of the Wind"? It has a similar sigh.


Rac said...

I just checked it out from the library yesterday (sorry, I haven't started Atlas Shrugged because I was so tired just looking at it), and I can tell my family will be completely neglected for the next few days while I finish it.

Rac said...

I finished it last night. Sigh. What a great book. I lay awake for an hour thinking over the epilogue. I'm tired now but I am glad I thought about it because I woke up appreciating the book even more. And as a musician I'm extremely grateful that such a beautiful book has been written about how music and beauty makes you really live. I think I'll go practice the flute now.

Valerie said...

I couldn't agree with your sweet pea metaphor more. I knew all the way through that things were probably not going to work out the way I wanted them too, but I loved loved loved this book in a way I don't usually love books.
And really, there was something so humane (to the reader) about how quickly things happened when they happened. In a heartbeat, it was all over.
That is some amazing storytelling.