bel_cantoNovember 2007

Billed as an award winner and a page-turner about terrorism and opera, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto seemed a good choice for the Book Circle. In fact this character-driven novel proved to be much more than a ripping yarn about kidnapping in an unnamed South American country.

The scene is set in the Vice-President’s mansion where a lavish party is taking place to celebrate the birthday of a visiting Japanese businessman. A renowned opera singer has just finished her recital when the room is plunged into darkness, terrorists burst in and take hostage the most powerful and sig nificant of the guests. The resulting enforced captivity lasts several months. During this period, differences between races and cultures break down until even the boundaries between captors and their prisoners begin to blur. As a strange domesticity settles in, a common language emerges which unites hu manity and creates the possibility of love – the language of music. In this unlikely setting talents and relationships blossom. In order to survive con finement within the building and its grounds both kidnappers and victims draw on inner resources, often discovering hidden skills and feelings. Love affairs develop which are as emotionally charged as any opera. The rhythm of this enclosed existence comes to an end when government troops recapture the mansion, killing all the terrorists as they do so.

Most of us enjoyed the book though one or two found it hard going. Our lively discussion produced a variety of comments on the development of char acter and relationships in the intensity of such a situation. But what a disappointment the epilogue was. It proposed an aftermath which was, quite simply, implausible in the context of everything that had gone before and it appealed to none of us. Why, Ann Patchett. did you end such a sensitive novel in this way?

At our next meeting on Dec 13th we will be reading a play, Bedroom Farce by Alan Ayckbourn.


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