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Bel Canto
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 8 December 2013
In a botched attempt to capture the president of an unnamed South American dictatorship, terrorists resort to taking hostage a disparate group of foreigners who happen to be attending the birthday party of Japanese CEO Mr Hosokawa, where the star turn has been the performance of Roxane Coss, the renowned international soprano with whom he has become infatuated.

The potential for a tense drama is rapidly dissipated by the author's soft-centred, overblown style. To be fair, an exciting and pacy plot is clearly not her major concern. The siege of the Vice-President's house serves as a means of creating a bubble, isolated from the rest of the world, in which, relieved from normal pressures, routines and expectations, the characters have time to take stock of their lives, observe their surroundings from a fresh viewpoint, form unexpected relationships and identify talents they never knew they possessed.

At first, the uneven quality of the prose, the wordiness and focus on mundane details made tedious reading and I was tempted several times to give up. There is a child's fairy tale quality in the lengthy attempts to provide some logical support for unlikely situations. It was hard to engage with the large number of characters, most of them male but with a rather similar and female "voice" - the author's? Perhaps the slightly contrived, stagey nature of some scenes is part of a deliberate attempt to make the hostage-taking into a kind of opera.

Looking for reasons to continue, I noted the unusual, imaginative nature of the story. Ann Patchett creates a wide range of characters who prove to be quite interesting. There is the odd striking description, or telling insight, such as the fact that for many hostages and terrorists, the new way of life created under siege may be preferable to and more real than that outside, to which perhaps there can be no tolerable return. There are many moments of comedy, and others of real poignancy. An ongoing and fascinating theme is how people manage to communicate when they do not share a language.

So, I began to find "Bel Canto" more absorbing yet remain unconvinced that Gen, the Japanese interpreter, could be quite so skilful in so many languages, or that a young hostage could be quite so word and note perfect in imitating Roxanne's singing, to give two examples of implausible aspects. Unlike some reviewers, I thought the ending quite effective, although perhaps the epilogue went a bit too far in tying up loose ends.

Even if you have serious reservations over the quality of the writing, or the development of the plot, this is likely to stimulate lively and wide-ranging discussion in a book group.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Winner of the Orange Prize? Must be literary, pretentious and hard-to-read then.
Not at all. I have found some Orange shortlisters too much of a challenge but Bel Canto is incredibly readable, funny, romantic and touching.

The synopsis sold me. And then the writing pulled me through.

In an unnamed South American country, at the Vice President's house, a Japanese CEO of industry celebrates his 53rd birthday with a party for other important people, and including his favourite opera singer as entertainment.

A terrorist organisation takes them all hostage after hoping to find the country's President at the party. Alas, he is at home watching his favourite soap opera. And so begins a long stand-off in which positions change, relationships are formed, we meet and learn to like hostage and terrorist alike.

It's a brilliant read, even if you suspect you know what might happen at the end (it is a hostage situation after all), though there are surprises.

The characters are wonderful and varied, from the brilliant and much-in-demand translator Gen, to the poor Red Cross go-between called in from his holiday, to the shingles-ridden terrorist General.

Sympathies are stretched to include almost every character, which seems far-fetched but they are an interesting bunch to follow. It does mean you have more than one party to root for however.

There is a lot of talk of songs and singing in the book, with Rozanne Coss the opera star singing each day in the house, and I did several times wish I could hear her!

Very enjoyable. And very readable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2013
I don't feel the need to review the whole book, since so many others have already done so brilliantly. It's a 5-star book for me, being emotionally fulfilling and feel-good without being trite. I don't need realistic settings, I enjoy books most when the characters engage me and I want to find out what happens to them.

What I do want to do is to stand up for Patchett's ending and her epilogue - **SPOILER ALERT** here - as it seems to have spoiled the book for several reviewers. I was on tenterhooks towards the end, desperate for a happy outcome but dreading the inevitable end-of-siege bloodbath. I found the final scene at the house to be beautiful and elegiac, hardly violent even - it simply ended the lives of those who couldn't have lived any other way after the siege. And the epilogue was to me a clever way to show us fragment of the lives of some of the key players who survived. The coming together of those two unlikely characters seemed to me to be an act of desperation, both changed people, both needing to cling to the other as they couldn't return to their former lives. Whether or not their marriage would last is very much in question - in the real world it wouldn't stand a chance, in Patchett's world - it might. It's a subdued affair, reflecting the haste of its undertaking and the pain and losses they have both suffered. You feel for them. But it does leave us with a glimmer of hope.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2008
My turn to choose a book for the Book Club. A friend who lives and works in Texas recommended this as one of the best liked books her Book Club had read.
A slow burn at the beginning you are drawn into the world of the hostages and the hostage takers. The pace alters with the action and the writing allows you to picture the scene and understand bit by bit the characters and their subtle personalities.
Intriguing how te interpreter worked and was able to convey thought, threats and endearments between characters with a professional distance whhich sets him apart.
Without doubt I will be reading more of Pratchett.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Ann Patchett skilfully built up the mood, the atmosphere, the characters and the story, so that I found myself totally wrapped up in the book. The pace is slow, no detail is missed, and yet it is a riveting read. I agree with other reviewers who have said that she makes you feel like you are one of the people in that house. It was a strange sensation, this detachment from the outside world and the "fishbowl" feeling that it brought. A most unusual scenario and story, and yet it works perfectly. Don't expect big action scenes, but be prepared to be bowled over by the insightfulness of this author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 31 August 2009
In an unnamed South American country, a birthday dinner party is being held in honour of a Japanese industrialist. Prominent political and industrial guers are in attendance, while Roxanne Coss, a famous opera singer, enthralls the crowd with her virtuoso performance.

Little do they know until the lights go out, that a rag-tag group of terrorists plan to use the President as a hostage. Unfortunately, the President stayed at home to watch his favourite soap opera, leaving the terrorists with a major flaw in their plans.

Patchett moves the focal point of the story between the hostages and the terrorists, revealing the good and bad in each. The 58 hostages have no common language, other than the glorious music provided by Roxanne and the pianist. As they spend many months together trapped in the Vice-Presidential house, the lines between hostages and terrorists becomes blurred. Patchett beautifully builds the tension and the eerie feeling of suspended reality within the palace.

Bel Canto is an elegantly written book which shows the noble side of human nature. Like other books set in South America, she captures a dreamy, escapist atmosphere most excellently.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2005
Another reading group choice and one that held my interest; this despite being told what happens in the end during the opening chapter. Set in a South American embassy, the assembled group are taken hostage and is the story of how both hostage and "terrorist" endure their enforced captivity and the unexpected unions that take place. Even though the end was a known outcome, it was nevertheless such a surprise. A difficult book to get hold of but worth the effort.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2010
Patchett paces this novel beautifully and as the story unfolds the reader is drawn ever more deeply into the relationships which form between the main characters making it difficult to put this book down. If you like a thoughtfully observed yet gentle story this is a book for you. The ending comes as a surprise yet makes perfect sense as a conclusion to the story.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 13 February 2003
Having just finished this book for our local book club I feel my life enriched in the same way I feel when I hear a beautiful piece of music.
It is one of the few book that we have all enjoyed although all for different reasons. A number of criticisms have been made of the book one of them being that the plot was contrived. On one level it was contrived but read on another level it seems to me that this book is like an opera; it is the beauty of the writing, the sound of the authors voice and complexity of the characters that count. Many of the characters seem to be stereo types but then complexities are revealed in each one and the writer dares you to fall in love with them.
In our club we all described our favourite scene and all had different ones and different images of such scenes. We all then had fun casting roles for the film that hopefully will one day be made. I just hope the film lives up to the beauty of this book
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on 5 July 2015
This is a book that surprised me in many ways. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and I did not expect it to pull me in and make me connect with these characters. Bel Canto has become a classic piece of literature that many people have heard of or know about whether they've read it or not. When I first picked it up, I thought it would take me weeks to get through, which is how long it usually takes me to get through classics. However, I found myself breezing through the pages, completely engrossed in what was happening, wondering how it was all going to end.

The novel premise is quite ordinary: a group of people at Mr. Hosokawa's birthday party, a Japanese chairman of a large company, are taken hostage by a group of South American terrorists hoping to capture the President. When they realize the President did not attend the party (because he did not want to miss his favourite soap opera on TV), they take all the guests hostages.

They realize that they have too many hostages though, so they decide to release all women and anyone they deem unimportant to their cause. The only exception to that was guest performer at the party, Opera singer, Roxanne Coss, who was invited especially to perform for her biggest fan - Mr. Hosokawa.

The dynamic between the hostages and the abductors was very odd and intriguing. Ann Patchett succeeds in revealing hidden depths to the characters, allowing you to sympathize with many of them - including the captors. You get lost in time as the story goes on and the days turn into weeks. You sometimes tend to forget that these people are being held by a group of terrorists, as you delve into their lives and backgrounds and interactions with each other. You learn more not just about the guests there, but about the young terrorists, who love to climb trees, and watch soap operas and cook and learn how to read. The young terrorists, who have never seen a television set before and are amazed by how it works.

With two main romantic relationships developing in the house, you find yourself rooting for all of them to get out safely. Deep bonds are formed between some of the captors and the guests of the house, my favourite being the one between the Vice President and the young terrorist, who he wants to adopt after they're released and retire from his current post to become a gardener. Another extremely interesting character is Gen, the translator, who seems able to communicate with everyone due to his extensive knowledge of languages. Gen finds himself caught in more than one awkward situation as he becomes the only vessel to send messages across to different people.

The operation seems to have gone terribly wrong, but there seems to be no way out for the captors, who don't want to give up so easily, but are aware of how dire their situation has become. You could tell where the story is headed and how it's going to end, but it still tugs at your heartstrings when it does and you still hope that there is somehow, someway, you can change the ending.

Bel Canto is a beautifully written novel, with great prose and style.
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