Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett

by Erin on May 27, 2011

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Welcome to the Reading Buddies wrap-up for Bel Canto by Ann Patchett! I’m just going to come out and say that if you haven’t read the book and might, at some point, you probably want to stop reading now. It’s one of those books that’s easily ruined by spoilers, I think, and seeing as what I most want to discuss is the end, well…you see the problem. If, on the other hand, you’ve read Bel Canto and would like to help me talk through my reactions, by all means, read on!

Here’s an approximate summary of my thought process as I read through the book:

1%-10% read: “As long as Mr. Hosokawa is okay, I can handle this book.”
11%-75% read: “As long as Gen is okay, I can handle this book.”
76&-97% read: “Oh crap, I really want Carmen to be okay but something awful is going to happen, and that will be the end.”
98%-99% read: “Huh, suddenly I don’t care about anyone.”
100%: “…huh?”

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (cover)Let me explain. I started out liking Mr. Hosokawa. He seemed so sweet and genuine. Then the story shifted more to Gen, and I came to really like him, as I mentioned in the discussion post. It wasn’t until we really got to know Carmen that I decided she was an okay girl and got attached to her and Gen as a couple. From the moment they decided to help Mr. Hosokawa and Roxanne, though, I had this terrible feeling that someone was going to get caught and that Carmen would be the one punished. Maybe she’d be discovered helping Mr. Hosokawa, or maybe someone would see her sneak outside with Gen at night, or maybe she’d slip up and say something–I didn’t know, but I got edgy. I knew things couldn’t end well, even though I wasn’t sure what direction the author would take.

Then came the scene where the military made their entrance. I can’t explain why, but it was suddenly like I was reading a different book, like the emotional thread that had pulled me through the entire novel snapped and I didn’t particularly care what happened. I can’t really figure out why this happened; I should have been heartbroken. If not for the terrorists, at least for the hostages. Right?

With the connection lost, I hated what came next. Gen and Roxanne? Just because they’d both lost someone they loved? Really?? I didn’t believe it for a minute. I’d been planning to keep the book, having thought for most of the time I’d been reading that it was quite good, but when I finished it I promptly put it in my “donate” pile. The last few pages ruined the book for me.

Sometimes I get this feeling with authors, like you can trust them to take a story exactly where it needs to go. I know I’m in the minority, but I felt that way about Suzanne Collins as I read The Hunger Games trilogy. Another book that worked the same way for me was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. At this point, though, after having read only Bel Canto, I’m leery of trusting Ann Patchett. I will give her another chance, because (a) I know many people have said her other novels are better, and (b) the first three quarters (and more) of Bel Canto was so good. But two more chances…that might not happen.

What did you think? Am I overreacting? Anyone want to try and make me see why the author chose the ending she did? And if you’ve read others by Ann Patchett, would you advise me as to what I should pick up next? (I have Run on my shelf…)

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21 comments
timsiu07
timsiu07

I just finished reading this book which was required for my English course. I hadn't had much time to read before I picked up Bel Canto and in all honestly, I was just expecting to be another book. After reading the first few chapters I was blown away. I thought the character development was amazing and the author's ability to juggle all of the different personal was superb. I loved the state of near utopia that the characters achieved near the middle and end of the book and especially loved the relationship blooming between Gen and Carmen. I thought it was amazing how two very different people found each other and the love they showed to each to other. Like you, I anticipated something tragic happening to the characters but I could never prepare for the Gen and Roxanne pairing!!! Ann Patchett definitely  ruined what could have been a amazing story!

Brenna
Brenna

Ok I linked up my review to Bel Canto. Like you, I didn't love it. The end left me feeling angry and the plot was a little lack luster. However, with that being said, I thought the prose was absolutely beautiful.

I still haven't read anything else by Patchett. I'm a little reluctant. But if I heard good things about a certain book I'd be willing to give it a try.

(Diane)BibliophileBytheSea
(Diane)BibliophileBytheSea

i still have not been able to fit this one in, but I've read about 5 books by Patchett, and enjoyed them (some more than others). Looking forward to State of Wonder her newest book next.

Jenny
Jenny

I've only read Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett's memoir about her friendship with Lucy Greeley, so I can't speak to Patchett's skill as a novelist. She writes lovely prose, but when I tried to read one of her novels (possibly this one?), I got bored and gave up within a few chapters.

stacybuckeye
stacybuckeye

I just read this lasat month and liked the ending, except for the last chapter with Gen & Roxanne. Thst made zero sense to me too.

Marie
Marie

I really need to read this one of these days! I love it when a book provokes such strong reactions.

Stephanie
Stephanie

I didn't read past the first paragraph of your post because I haven't read Bel Canto. My mom and cousin loved it, and I even own a copy, but so far I haven't been inclined to actually read it.

virginie
virginie

I was not sure when I began reading Bel Canto wether I would enjoy the book or not, as I felt mild reading about terrorists and people held in hostage. But I finally really got hooked by the story. I loved the characters (Gen, Mr Hosokawa, Ruben Iglesias, Ishmael and some others) and the way they reveal the hidden part of their personalities during their captivity. Of course, I loved the adorable couple formed by Gen and Carmen.

Though the end was predictable, I couldn't help being sad for all.

I didn't believe much in the couple formed by Mr Hosokawa and Roxanne and the final scene, Roxanne and Gen, being married, seemed actually very weird.

But, I liked the novel anyway (beside this strange ending). And the comment by Jo Ann in your discussion post) saying that Bel Canto was her least favorite ! So, I assume that I will probably enjoy another work of Ms. Patchett.

Hannah
Hannah

Erin, I am totally with you. I read Bel Canto a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it at first. I thought the writing was interesting. I liked the way Patchett took something as violent as a hostage situation but made it seem calm and brought other important elements out. She had me going. Then all of sudden everyone's dead and Gen's marrying Roxanne? I am not okay with this. I skimmed the end of the book without really reading it...disappointment. (PS I really enjoyed the Poisonwood Bible)

erinkurup
erinkurup moderator

@timsiu07  Sounds like we had similar experiences with Bel Canto. I ended up trying a few others by Ann Patchett, but they all had disconnected endings in my opinion (though not as bad as this one). Have you tried anything else by her?

Erin
Erin

Yes, the writing is lovely, isn't it? But the ending was so disappointing, especially after such a gentle novel. I actually got used to the "lack luster" plot, sort of settling into the rhythm of daily life along with the characters. Like you, I'm reluctant to try Patchett again, but I do think I'll give her one more chance. I just have to pick the right book!

Erin
Erin

Sounds like her other novels are quite good! I'll have to give her another chance. This one wasn't my favorite...maybe not a good introduction to her!

Erin
Erin

Yes, her prose is lovely! Maybe I'd like Truth and Beauty better? I expected to be bored with Bel Canto, but ended up not being so at all, surprisingly.

Erin
Erin

That seems to be the consensus, that the book was quite good except for the bizarre ending with Gen and Roxanne (and for some people, with the military scene). I don't understand why Patchett ended the novel that way.

Erin
Erin

If you do read it, Marie, I'll look forward to your thoughts. I definitely had a strong reaction, first one way, then another, and it seems many others did as well.

Erin
Erin

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts if/when you do read it. I loved most of it!

Erin
Erin

I was a little worried about the premise, too. I expected something much more violent than most of Bel Canto was. I think the gradual revealing of each character's nature was what made me love the first part of the novel -- Patchett really did create some wonderful characters! As for the end, I knew it would end badly (how could it not?) but I didn't know exactly how. Roxanne and Gen together was very jarring and wrong to me, and I didn't believe it at all! I've heard from several people that Bel Canto was their least favorite of Ann Patchett's novels, so I, like you, will probably read another of hers. After all, so much of the novel was good!

Erin
Erin

I'm so happy I'm not the only one. I was so disappointed because just like you said, I loved what Patchett did with most of the book. Have you read anything else by her?

As for Poisonwood Bible, that was a previous Reading Buddies book! I was so glad it got picked, because I was kind of forced to read it and ended up loving it.

timsiu07
timsiu07

@erinkurup I only read Bel Canto so far, can you give me some recomendations! 

Hannah
Hannah

I haven't read anything else of Patchett's. I'm not sure I will honestly. I like voices that are unique and that's why I stuck with Bel Canto for so long. But I mean...Carmen, really? I don't like authors killing characters I like (I'm looking at you JK!) even if it does enhance the story- which in this case it didn't.

But Reading Buddies is awesome! I'm glad to participate (it keeps me from having to steal anything else from your blog)

Erin
Erin

I'm with you regarding the killing of characters when it doesn't even enhance the story. I felt so jarred away from the story, its characters, and the emotional connection I'd built up in this case. I think Patchett will get one more chance from me, but not yet.