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Old 10-08-2016, 01:24 PM   #1
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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett




This is the MR Literary Club selection for October 2016. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time, and guests are always welcome! So, what are your thoughts on it?
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Old 10-13-2016, 11:14 PM   #2
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I finished this last night and have been thinking about it since. I enjoyed the story very much, and found the blurring of the lines between captors and captives believable because of what we know about some long term hostage situations.

For me, the book was marred by Ann Patchett's style. Scattered through the book are phrases such as "He walked like no wall could stop him." (page 392) Maybe I shouldn't be irritated by what I consider to be bad grammar, but I am. So in terms of Goodreads scoring, I give the book three stars rather than four.
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Old 10-14-2016, 04:25 PM   #3
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I just started reading it and am enjoying it so far. It's been on my TBR for a long time. I have never read any of Ann Patchett's works before which is one of the reasons I nominated it. I found this interesting interview with the author about her most recent book.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...w-commonwealth

Quote:
All of her novels, she explains, are the same story: a group of people are thrown together and must forge connections to survive. “I’ve been writing the same book my whole life – that you’re in one family, and all of a sudden, you’re in another family and it’s not your choice and you can’t get out.”
Quote:
“I have been shown so much kindness in my life, so for me to write books about good, kind people seems completely natural,” Patchett says. “When people say, ‘Oh it’s too nice, it’s naive,’ I just think: who killed your mother?”

It violates a literary taboo to write fiction that suggests people might be fundamentally good.
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Old 10-16-2016, 07:47 AM   #4
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I haven't been around for a while and won't read this one again, but just wanted to drop by and say that I absolutely loved this book. My mother recommended it to me strongly and I never ignore one of her recommendations.

Ann Patchett managed to make a lot of "nothing much happening" fascinating and a great deal of ugliness beautiful.
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Old 10-17-2016, 04:42 AM   #5
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Hi Caleb - great to see you again.
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Old 10-22-2016, 08:30 PM   #6
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I just started this a couple of days ago and am now a little past half way through. So just a couple of early comments based on that so far incomplete read. I had not read any of Patchett's work prior to this book.

I am finding it an interesting book (I hesitate to say interesting story as it seems to me there is little story so far) but at around the half way point am finding it dragging a bit as the narration plods on at the same key. That due to it seeming to me to be very flat, there having been no rising action leading to the expectation of any sort of climax or significant change in circumstance any time soon.

The level of action is very low (even the entry of the kidnappers raises hardly a stir in the narrative; furthermore their method of entry into a house through air-conditioning ducting strikes me as being physically very unlikely) and the narration seems to me held up by, in the main, the detail of the internal feelings of and the relationships between the characters as time moves on. I think that even if I had not known who the author was, I could have picked the style as likely being that of a female writer.

That said, I am enjoying the read but am left wondering if it will ever get anywhere other than narrating the increasingly boring days as those pass by. Maybe there is a big surprise that after a couple of hundred plus pages will finally be the reward to the reader (if so, don't tell )?
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Old 10-22-2016, 09:14 PM   #7
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I've been reading this one slowly and haven't finished yet. It starts to shift a little around 70 percent.

The story is based on a real embassy hostage crisis that happened in South America in the mid-90s. I don't know how closely it follows the real event. I don't plan to read up on that for comparison until after I finish the book so that it doesn't reveal any spoilers!

Thanks for stopping by the thread, Caleb! Nice to see your input. I almost didn't nominate this book because I couldn't find an ebook version for Australia and didn't know how hard it would be to find a paper copy. I guess I didn't need to worry about that based on the turnout in this thread. Funny.
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Old 10-23-2016, 11:45 PM   #8
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Thanks for this Bookworm_Girl. It prompted me to look up the story of the hostage crisis in Peru. Yes, wait until you have finished reading the book!
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Old 10-24-2016, 01:29 AM   #9
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I'm at about 85% now! I'm alternating between this and a nonfiction book (The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale). I was also delayed waiting for my library copy so I read The Cellist of Sarajevo first, which actually is a very nice complement to Bel Canto.
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Old 10-26-2016, 07:47 PM   #10
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I have finished this book now and spent a day or so thinking a bit about it. Its structure demanding that I found.

As I said in my earlier post I found it quite flat, it being lightly framed in a the terrorist kidnapping of the hostages where the terrorists' arrival and ending is low key (they just arrive quietly like shadows) and the climax of the ending is predictable so not much of a surprise. I sometimes wondered where it was going to, and by a little after halfway I felt it was not going to go anywhere at all.

Instead it was a third party narration in easily flowing prose of the personal interrelationships, and how those developed and ended, among the characters within a low key background of being hostages and kidnappers. I think under those circumstances the narration could very easily have become tedious, but for me it was very delicately and tenderly done; hence my earlier comment about picking the author likely being a woman, even if their name was not known.

Those characteristics were magnified by the flatness of the storyline in which, for example, the path from downstairs up the stairs to the room of the diva is as adventurous as the story gets before the end. But any significant action I think would have tarred the book's delicacy. To carry the third party narration under those circumstances was, I thought, quite artful. That perhaps, I wondered, helped by the use of Gen the interpreter in his role as a second party voiceless "narrator" or buffer to the author's narration by his "narrating" the other characters' discussions between them.

My HarperCollins version had an interesting Appendix, that being an interview of Patchett by a senior HarperCollins editor.

So to round all up, it was one of the better fiction books I have read recently. Thanks.

Last edited by AnotherCat; 10-26-2016 at 07:57 PM.
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Old 10-27-2016, 09:48 PM   #11
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I finished the book. I plan to read the interview in the back over the weekend and then comment further. I'm glad I waited to read a summary of the Japanese hostage crisis. I don't remember this event in the news at the time. I can see how it loosely inspired her outline of events.

Spoiler:
I guessed that eventually the military would storm the residence and result in the deaths of the terrorists. However, I didn't guess which hostage would be caught in the middle and which hostages would get married in the final paragraphs. I thought that this summary of Patchett's creative process on Wikipedia was interesting. Probably a good call by her mentor to take out the prologue.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bel_Canto_(novel)

Quote:
Patchett was inspired by the Lima Crisis as she watched the events unfold on the news and thought how operatic the crisis was. Patchett was an opera novice prior to writing the book, although she has stated that the character Roxane was modeled on Karol Bennett, an acquaintance of hers who was an opera singer. Since she was not familiar with Bennett's voice, she listened to recordings by the famous American soprano Renée Fleming and imagined Roxane Coss as possessing Fleming's voice. (Patchett and Fleming became friends only after the novel was published.)

The original working title was How to Fall in Love with Opera, but her editor advised against it in case bookstores would mis-shelve it in their "how to" section. The manuscript originally contained a prologue from Gen's perspective, establishing the book as a story about how he met his wife. However, Patchett's mentor Elizabeth McCracken told her that the prologue was not needed, so Patchett cut it.

Patchett has stated that she always wanted to write with an omniscient third person narrator that "moves from person to person within a room"—a style she calls "Anna Karenina-third." Her first two novels were in first-person and her third novel was in third-person, but it was limited to one character's perspective. She was pleased when she was able to write in this style for Bel Canto, deeming her achievement of the style a progression in her writing
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Old 10-28-2016, 11:30 AM   #12
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This was one of the "free books" that came with the purchase of my first Kobo. I had never got around to reading it, and I wish I had put this month's reading on my radar sooner. But now it inspires me to read it.
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Old 11-30-2016, 12:11 PM   #13
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Sorry for posting so late, but I was on the wait list at the library. I am about 40% in now, reading it in short stretches, and the book keeps drawing me back. I loved the bit about the garua that emphasizes the almost complete isolation from the exterior - like drifting on a lifeboat in a fog.
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Old 12-08-2016, 12:28 PM   #14
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I enjoyed this book very much. That being said, I see Bookpossum's point about a few rough points in the prose, that could have used a bit more editing. For example, of Roxane and Kato:
"She had learned to say good morning, Ohayo Gozaimasu, in Japanese, and Kato knew a handful of phrases which included, good morning, thank you, and bye-bye. That constituted the extent of their abilities in each other’s language, so that they said good morning again when it was time to stop for a break or when they passed each other in the hallways before bedtime. They spoke to one another by handing leaves of music back and forth." I think that the italicized phrase is redundant.

On the other hand, you get such great prose on the same page, of Roxane and Carmen's relationship:
"they were sisters, girlfriends, the same. They were happy together when it was just the two of them alone. They never thought of Beatriz, who shot dice against the pantry door in the kitchen with the boys."
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Old 12-23-2016, 05:09 PM   #15
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