Bel Canto

Sometimes when I’m at book sales I buy books that I know are always on displays at bookstores, but I’ve never paid much attention to what the book is about. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is one of those books. I grabbed it without even reading the synopsis, just because I know it’s popular. Then I read the synopsis and thought it sounded good. Unfortunately, I don’t really think it delivered.

The story opens at the birthday party of an international businessman. A poor South American country has coaxed Mr. Hosokawa to his own birthday party with the promise of a performance by his favorite soprano, Roxane Coss. They hope to get Hosokawa to build a factory in their country, and though he has no intention of doing that, Hosokawa is willing to let them hope in order to enjoy Roxane Coss’ singing.

Things quickly fall to pieces when a group of terrorists take the whole party hostage. Though their primary target turns out to be absent from the party, the terrorists try to make the best of the situation. As a stalemate ensues, the terror begins to subside and something akin to friendship begins to replace it. But in the end, it’s still hostages and terrorists, and all things must come to an end.

The first thing I have to say, in complete honesty, is that this book was so very slow. Almost boring, even. Perhaps it is more enjoyable if one is an opera fan, though even that, though a prominent plot key, doesn’t move the story forward in a specific way. The story included a lot of internal thoughts and a lot of descriptions of waiting. I just found it challenging to really get drawn in. And, I guess the significant Stockholm Syndrome the hostages ended up with. I guess it would be natural to start seeing the humanity of people you’re stuck with for long periods of time, but it still just doesn’t sit well for anyone on the outside, I think.

That said, Patchett’s writing style is good. She knows how to tell a story, so I in no way would be turned off from trying another of her books. She cycles between characters smoothly, giving us insight into their minds and actions and giving us an image of who they are without telling us. She’s got show not tell down really well.

It’s the kind of book I might recommend to someone who likes high-brow literature and don’t mind a slower story if the character development is good. But for those who like fast-paced thrillers and action books, despite the premise this would not be the book to turn to.

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