Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (4/5)

9 Oct

I enjoyed the first Patchett book I read so much that it took little convincing to get me to read this one. I had it downloaded to my phone as a ‘back up’ book if I needed one while I was traveling Europe. Of course, I read more than I thought I would and needed to dive into this one. Sadly, the hold expired before I could finish it and after waiting a month in limbo, I devoured the ending.

Cover image via Goodreads

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Other books by Patchett reviewed on this blog:
Commonwealth (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Goodreads:

In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

Among the hostages are Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Swiss Red Cross negotiator oachim Messner comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands. Days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months. Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I knew nothing about it going in and the title didn’t mesh with a hostage situation to me, but I rolled with it. The other Patchett novel I read had been a slow burn of emotional turmoil because Patchett is an amazing writer who makes you care about her characters more than you ever thought possible. As the story went on, I felt it dragged a little bit in the middle, but Patchett kept me interested in the happenings of a single house for five months. That’s pretty awesome.

I liked the variety of reactions we get from the hostages and terrorists. Not all of the terrorists are angry all the time and not all of the hostages are mad about the situation they’re in. Most of the young terrorists joined the group because they didn’t know another way. Many of the hostages have realized they’re not going to be killed and that the terrorists don’t want to kill them and they seem quite comfortable in their situation. I liked the variety Patchett gave us.

Gen was easily my favorite. He was involved in everything because of his translation skills and he had a great ability to only insert himself where he was really needed. I thought his relationship with Carmen was adorable and I liked the continued working relationship between him and Hosokawa. The obligation he felt to his employer even in the terrible situation was understandable and kind of adorable. I think I could have been friends with Gen.

Carmen’s desire for nothing to change was relatable. I think many people find solace in a moment or a situation and hope that nothing changes and they can live in that moment forever. Their moment lasted almost five months, but it was fleeting and the idealized time had to come to pass.

Ann Patchett
Image via Star Tribune

I liked the beginning of Roxane singing. It was such a change to the book and it sparked a lot of change in the house and the characters. It was the beginning of the hostages being treated as humans. It was a time of beauty and cooperation and it showed the power of music in the book. That’s not something many books can achieve.

The ending was my least favorite part so skip ahead if you don’t want it ruined. I felt it was really abrupt though I guess the ending to the situation had to be abrupt. There was no other way out of it. I thought it was appropriate but the epilogue rubbed me the wrong way and I felt disappointed and let down by what had happened. I wanted there to be something more, a wrap up of some kind with the other characters. Though I guess there wasn’t much left to say, was there?

You hear about Stockholm Syndrome and it’s hard to understand how something like that could happen. I can see it now. This book makes it so clear. When you’re world is shrunk to the size of a hostage group, it’s easy to attach to one of the few people there. Sometimes it’s another hostage but many times, it’s a terrorist. Many of the characters though, “When we get out of this, I want to…” without considering the way they’d get out and who would get out. They wanted the world to continue the way they were living it then, expanding the borders of their world but not who was in it. I can’t say I’ve ever read another book about this and it was really fascinating.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book had a slow burn, which is hard to write. Every time you thought things were getting repetitive or slow, Patchett threw something else in to kick it up a notch and make it exciting again. She paced this book well. For such a small setting and such a limited number of characters, I cared a lot about what happened.

I enjoyed this book, though I could have gone for a little more action or a slightly shorter book. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett | The California Journal of Women Writers
bel canto by ann patchett | Ardent Reader
Ann Patchett: Bel Canto | A year of reading women
Ann Patchett – Bel Canto | Fyrefly’s Book Blog


17 Responses to “Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (4/5)”

  1. Jenn @ the Bibliofile October 9, 2018 at 11:33 AM #

    Nice review! I read this a long time ago, so I don’t remember any of the details any more, but I recall that I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading it. Your review is tempting me to re-read it, but my TBR beckons…


    • Sam October 9, 2018 at 11:34 AM #

      The TBR always wins for me. I’m looking forward to seeing this as a movie soon. It would be really interesting to see that relationship play out on screen. Happy reading!


  2. Cathy746books October 9, 2018 at 3:33 PM #

    I really enjoyed this when I read it a while ago. I might check out the movie although reviews are so-so.


    • Sam October 9, 2018 at 5:38 PM #

      I just found out the movie was already out lol. I’ll wait until I can stream it if reviews are so mixed. Happy reading!


  3. TapsAndTomes (@hmills96) October 9, 2018 at 7:02 PM #

    YOU FINALLY READ BELCANTO!!!!!! LOVEEEEEEE THIS BOOK, and yes, it is definitely a slow burn, but I just find the writing so beautiful.


    • Sam October 9, 2018 at 7:51 PM #

      Patchett is a great writer. I don’t know if I’ll actively seek out more of her, but I’ll be happy if my book clubs pick her! Thanks for the recommendation. Happy reading!


  4. Cozynookbks October 10, 2018 at 7:25 AM #

    Excellent review!! I’m going to look up Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t typically like when a book ends abruptly. 😔


    • Sam October 10, 2018 at 8:43 AM #

      I don’t think there was another way for it to end given the setting. You kind of saw it coming. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rae Longest October 15, 2018 at 8:58 PM #

    I have a paperback of Bel Canto which has been sitting on my TBR shelf for years. A friend recommended it because her book club had read it. One of these days, I’ll get to it.


    • Sam October 15, 2018 at 9:07 PM #

      It took me a while as well. The movie came out while I was reading it so I’ll have to see that soon. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. sharonchyy October 27, 2018 at 7:02 AM #

    Great review



  1. Book Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (4/5) | Taking on a World of Words - February 11, 2020

    […] Other books by Patchett reviewed on this blog: Commonwealth (and book club reflection) Truth and Beauty Bel Canto […]


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