Book Review: Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

Bel Canto.

Author: Anne Patchett

Publisher: Harper Collins 2001

Genre: Literary Fiction

My personal summary of Bel Canto:

Once upon a time the leaders of one of the countries in South America decide to throw a lavish dinner party for a wealthy Japanese businessman. They hope to impress him so much that he will locate one of his factories in their country. It was a very fancy party and all of the most important people were invited. That included the world’s most beloved opera singer. You see, the Japanese businessman was a great lover of opera.

The evening was going along splendidly with only a couple of missteps: The president of the country did not attend and then, a large band of terrorists crashed the party and took all the guests hostage. (The terrorists snuck in through the vents.)

The terrorists stated their demands. The opposition also made demands. After a few days the women and children were released with the exception of the opera singer. The stand-off continued for weeks. Soon there was very little distinction between terrorist and captive. The only joy anyone found was in the opera.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anne Patchett is undoubtedly a beautiful writer. After every few paragraphs I kept saying “lovely writing.” And indeed, there is no doubt, it is a beautifully written novel. But — the story didn’t measure up. It was too fanciful. I mean, seriously, sneaking in through the vents with no one noticing? The entire group dynamics breaking down over the voice of the opera singer?

In spite of all that bothered me, I continued reading and enjoying the story. I told myself this was meant to be like a fairy tale. There was something like a “once upon a time,” and there would be a “they lived happily ever after.”

And then I hit the ending. I won’t spoil it for you other than to say I was let down. It was as if the author was tired of the story; she snapped the book shut and said, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Maybe I no longer like fairy tales. Or it could be that I prefer stories that are more realistic. It could also be that I don’t get the whole opera thing. Whatever it is, Bel Canto disappointed me. Its a shame because I’ve been looking forward to reading an Anne Patchett novel. Perhaps I picked the wrong one. Several friends have suggested I read the author’s State of Wonder. I believe I will. In the meantime, I’m afraid I can’t recommend Bel Canto.

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7 Responses to Book Review: Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

  1. I’m a big fan of Ann Patchett, but even though Bel Canto seems to be her most famous novel, it is my least favorite. State of Wonder was excellent and The Magician’s Assistant is another favorite. Her nonfiction essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, is outstanding.

  2. I’ve read one of Patchett’s books, State of Wonder, and felt the same way about the ending.

  3. Debbie says:

    This has been on my shelf for a few years. I pick it up and then I put it down, pick it up, put it down. Now I don’t know what to do?!!!

  4. Kay says:

    I remember liking this one when I read it. That being said, I think we are more used to hostage situation being told in one manner and this book tells it in another. Fairy tale is a good analogy. I second JoAnn’s recommendation of The Magician’s Assistant. I remember liking that one too. I also agree that she does write beautifully.

  5. I was disappointed by this one too, but I read it so long ago that I don’t remember why!

  6. Ti says:

    I read another book by this author and was so bored with it, that I never did pick this one up. She just doesn’t do it for me.

  7. Terra says:

    I like Ann Patchett and enjoyed Bel Canto but did not care for the book by her that I read last week, Magician’s Apprentice. Like you I am “joyfully retired” and am following you via bloglovin.

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