Bel Canto: Unlikely Situation Sings

To my own surprise, I have finished a good contemporary novel. I suspected it might be one, but then I was warned it got slow in the middle. I reserved judgement until I shut the covers last night. Bel Canto is an engaging and graceful read by award-winner Ann Patchett.

It concerns a birthday party featuring an opera singer held in a poor South American country, in hopes of luring the guest of honor, a Japanese business tycoon, into building factories there. As she sings, the room is invaded by terrorists who take the group hostage. The substance of the book lies between this action-packed beginning and it’s similar, and inevitable, end. The group of prisoners and captors forget more and more of the outside world, as the weeks go by inside their new home. Relationships form, eventually between the captors and their prisoners as well. And then people begin falling in love!But, as they all forgot inside the house they share, the situation is a ticking bomb.

An interesting premise and a well-done story, Patchett excels at creating depth in a wealth of characters. So there we have it, a good book. It’s treatment of opera (bel canto means beautiful song), and how it moves this diverse group of people is lovely. Opera in many ways dominates the characters lives, as the singer begins to practise every morning. Conterposed to child terrorists in fatigues it seems improbable, as if both could not exist in the same world.

I am still sticking to my resolve, however. Only classics from now on. Dickens and Proust. There’s not enough time to read everything. If only I could have a separate self of me, just for reading. But first some Baudelaire and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.

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