Matt's Reviews > Bel Canto

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
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's review
Sep 18, 2007

liked it
Read in April, 2012

** spoiler alert ** It took me a day of sitting with this novel after I'd finished it to pinpoint why I didn't love it. I could've opted out and fallen back on a bunch of workshop-type reasons: There's no protagonist. Nationalities are used as stereotypes. Art as the true meaning of life is a little cliche. But while these things annoyed me a tiny bit, none of them, I realized, is responsible for my not connecting with this book. No, my problem is that I love music so much, that a novel whose ulterior (or maybe not-so-ulterior) motive is to make me fall in love with a certain kind of music (in this case, opera) has to blow me away. I expect to be hearing the opera in my head as I'm reading along. The book did meet this (unrealistic?) expectation a few times, where the descriptions transcended the language and sounded like music. But mostly when Roxane sang, we got a lot of detail about how moved the people were who listened to her. I wanted to be moved myself. That I don't suddenly want to run out and see a bunch of opera is why I didn't love this book.

As for the ending (Emily, you asked), I didn't enjoy the death of half the characters I'd grown to like over the course of the book, though I pretty much knew it was coming, so that lessened the blow somewhat. Still, it was not satisfying at all from a narrative standpoint, though I guess it served as a solid counterweight to the previous 300 pages, when everyone experienced how wonderful their lives could be. The ending after the ending (Gen and Roxane's wedding) I thought was tacked-on and unearned, but the novel couldn't end in a bloodbath so it provided a way out for an author who had abruptly turned her inspirational story into a nightmare.

Don't get me wrong, I'd cut my fingers off to write a novel this good. But as a reader, it didn't totally work for me.

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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Emily (new)

Emily I loved Bel Canto. I read it quite a while ago so I'll have to refresh my memory but when you're done let me know how you liked it, especially the end. - Emily

Matt Wow, so now I just learned that this was loosely based on actual events. That makes me like it much less, sadly.

message 3: by David (new) - added it

David Matt- I'm totally with you. It's a decent book, but I don't understand why everyone is gaga about it. I found it kind of syrupy and falsely sentimental, mostly because it expects a lot of emotion from you and doesn't give you much to justify that- and reading it you get the impression that Patchett is a better writer than that.

Also the events its based on are actually much more interesting- particularly in regards to how they eventually escaped.

message 4: by Osvaldo (new)

Osvaldo For my money, a book that makes me feel like the fictional music performance is real is Lethem's You Don't Love Me Yet" - though it is otherwise an unexceptional novel.

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