Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bel Canto

I finally finished another book that almost everyone in the world read before me: Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. Although I had an interest in reading Bel Canto, since first seeing it at the bookstore and hearing all the rave reviews, my interest peaked after reading Lucy Grealy’s absolutely amazing Autobiography of a Face. Grealy and Patchett were friends. Their friendship is documented in Patchett’s non-fiction account of their relationship in Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, but I decided to first experience Patchett as a fiction writer. I hope to read Truth & Beauty in the near future.

In Bel Canto, as everyone knows, guests at an elaborate birthday celebration in South America are taken hostage. The only female hostage to be retained for an extended time is Roxane Cross, a famous opera singer. Much of the activity, but not all, centers around Cross. Thrown in the mix are various other characters, including a vice president, a translator, and a Japanese business man. The revolutionaries also become a significant part of the story.

Bel Canto is an unusual book. For all its uniqueness and execution, I cannot say I loved it. The characters did not grow on me. I did not find myself waiting anxiously for the next time I could open the book and continue my reading, although I hung in until the end to find out if the hostages and revolutionaries would live. I imagine myself enjoying the book much more if adapted well into a film.

In many ways, my experience with this book reminded me of how I felt while reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. This is not because the books are similar; they are entirely different and Bel Canto is superior in comparison. Yet, both Bel Canto and The Secret Life of Bees are books that everyone I encountered said they loved. Even a waitress who saw me reading Bel Canto took time to comment on how great the book was. I think I will refer to this syndrome of mine as the “Secret Life of Bees Problem” from now on. I hope I will not experience it anytime soon.


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