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Reading Buddies Discussion: “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett

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Hello, Bel Canto reading buddies! I’m halfway through the novel, having just finished chapter five of ten. Feel free to talk about any part of the book; just please remember to warn about spoilers! As always, read at your own risk, as this post will most likely contain spoilers as well.

Bel Canto is the first novel by Ann Patchett that I’ve read. I’ve been told by many people that they don’t consider it to be her best work (though no one has told me what is…anyone care to jump in here?). I have Run on my shelf, and if Bel Canto continues in its current vein, I have no doubt I’ll pick up Run at some point.

As you know, if you’ve gotten beyond the first few pages, Bel Canto is about a hostage situation. I knew that going in, as well as that it involved a famous opera singer and took place in South America. And, really, for a novel about a terrorist/hostage incident, not much else has happened in terms of action. I was expecting something fast-paced and nerve-wracking. The scene unfolding in Bel Canto, however, is nothing like similar situations portrayed in movies, on TV, and even in the news. I find myself wondering, do situations like Bel Canto‘s occur? Or is this typical, with Hollywood and journalists playing up the drama? I don’t know how the book will end, of course, but thus far the entire terrorist/hostage relationship has felt a bit off balance, a little surreal to me because it’s so far off from what I’m used to seeing.

That being said, I love what Patchett is doing with her characters. I love the way she moves deftly amongst them, dipping in and out of their consciousnesses so that the reader meets each one easily and in turn. I love all the goodness that’s coming through, the sparks of beauty amidst the tension and fear. Are music and language and kindness such powerful forces that they can cut through the walls that separate one group of people from another? I’m interested to see where Patchett goes.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (cover)My favorite character, I think, is Gen. He’s referred to as a translator, yet what he’s really doing is interpreting in real time. Just out of college, I considered putting my major–American Sign Language–toward an interpreting certification and spent a lot of time considering the role of an interpreter. Watching Gen try to decide how to act under pressure and without sleep, seeing him consider which rules and ethics codes to break and which to uphold as he facilitates communication in so many languages and unfamiliar situations, interests me greatly. He seems to me the most human and multifaceted of the characters–at least, up to this point.

Finally, it’s quite interesting reading Bel Canto on the heels of last month’s Reading Buddies book, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. It was while reading Franzen’s novel that I realized how important characters are to me. I appreciate good writing and interesting plots, but I have to care about the characters in order to connect with a story. For that reason, even though Franzen’s writing was at times dazzling, I was unable to enjoy his book because I disliked every character he introduced. And for the same reason, even though the terrorist situation isn’t really doing it for me, I find myself drawn into Bel Canto for its characters and their relationships.

So, for me, so far so good. How’s Bel Canto going for you? Do you have a favorite (or least favorite) character? Is this your first Patchett novel? If not, how does Bel Canto compare to others you’ve read?

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  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I read this book a long time ago, and remember having a pretty positive reaction to it. The ending was quite beautiful, but also very sad. I really hope that you enjoy it and I will be anxious to hear what you think of it once you have finished!

    • Erin

      I just got to the end a few days ago. You’ll see my thoughts on it when I post about Bel Canto this Friday but…suffice to say, for now, that I was NOT happy!

  • http://perduedansleslivres.blogspot.com virginie

    I’m so late in my reading schedule! I have only read about 50 pages and will come back to your discussion post. This is also for me the first novel by Ann Patchett that I’m reading.

    • Erin

      That’s ok! Take your time! I don’t want Reading Buddies to be stressful.

  • http://lakesidemusing.blogspot.com JoAnn

    I think I’ve read all of Ann Patchett’s novels, as well as her nonfiction Truth and Beauty. Bel Canto was actually my least favorite, but I think I’m in the minority.

    • Erin

      I thought it would be one of my favorites until I got to the end. Now I feel differently. So many people love Ann Patchett, though, that I’m willing to give her another try!