Book Review of Bel Canto

Bel Canto
Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Book Type: Paperback
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At last, a story that pulled me in immediately with that lyrical description of the kiss on the first page. I struggled to put this book down after that. The premise of this novel is of South American terrorists (in a country very much like Peru) taking over 50 international guests hostage at a party, to include a Japanese businessman and his translator, an American Opera singer, and the host country's own Vice President. The violence and chaos of the attack unfold with poetic confusion, in scenes that seem to float passed in slow-motion, broken by small bubbles of internal dialogue. One unusual aspect of the book is its relentless omniscience, head-hopping mercilessly from one character to another, hostage and terrorist alike, even within the same sentence, and sometimes encompassing one collective point-of-view of everyone. This works to a point, but the sheer number of characters is a disadvantage. Patchett desperately wants to accommodate all of them and inhabit as many distinct minds as possible, diluting the reader's ability to form attachments to voices that fall away as quickly as they appear. I liked the concept of music as this magical healing force and of the hostages'/terrorist' surreal drift into a bizarre sort of unsustainable utopia, but I missed the dark edge a hostage situation demands. After the initial takeover, the terrorists suddenly appear too "nice" to actually kill anyone, the hostages too complacent to push their boundaries and "get away" with with things. Oh, and I'll just pretend that misplaced epilogue never existed. Overall, though, the story was captivating and intense, the prose made me green with envy, and I struggled to put it down.