Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. I don’t know about this book. I wanted to like it. I tried to like it. I have read other books where the universal power of music was celebrated, but I felt like this book celebrated to the point of worship – the music, the singer, the song – and I just didn’t get it.
After a birthday party for a visiting dignitary, the vice-president of a Spanish speaking country finds his house full of terrorists seeking the president. When the president is not found, they take the entire party hostage, including a visiting soprano who had been the centerpiece of the evening. What follows is the story of the days of captivity, the relationships that spring up despite the language barriers.
Unfortunately, Patchett lost me. The terrorists seemed buffoonish and ineffectual, and the hostages are so calm and collected, each seeming to find peace in this unexpected vacation from their lives. With one sweeping vibratto, the soprano controls the house. Miraculously, there is morning tea and girlish laughter, love bursts into flower and peace reigns for a hundred pages before the guillotine drops and blood covers the streets.
But wait. Before you stop caring, there’s an epilogue! Reminiscent of a fanciful fan fiction lovefest, Patchett marries people off with the blissful abandon of someone without any touch with reality.
I was disappointed. I feel like she’s such a talented author, but I still haven’t been impressed. Her writing style is excellent, but her plots and characters need some umph. I didn’t feel like the splash of blood at the end gave her story about what should have been a horrific situation any credence. The rest of the story is so fuzzily warm and cozy and completely unrealistic. I see now how this book about terrorists can be called “gentle” – it’s because another adjective to describe it would be “implausible.”
Ann Patchett, I’m trying to love you. Really I am. Should I give you one more try?