Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) ***SPOILERS***

So many people raved about this book (and at work, we’ve had to request it though ILL enough times) that I ordered it for the library. Enchanting, absorbing, touching–right up until the end, at which point I threw the book from me and burst into angry tears. Yes, I prefer happy endings. Real life is crammed full of horrible things that can’t be prevented–why create more in fiction? But I can deal with sad, even tragic endings as long as there is some kind of redemption or transcendence, something I can feel good about. Of course I saw the sad ending coming–it made the theme of the fragility and beauty of life stronger, there was no other plausible outcome, and Patchett made it clear that the new life the terrorists and hostages evolved into was just a dream. But did she have to kill so many people we grew to love? Realistically, yes, and even that could be handled in a way I would not object to so much. It’s the suddenness of the ending, and the way that we’re then excluded from the main character’s heads–we’ve seen their thought processes and felt their emotions all through the book (very effectively–Patchett’s a brilliant writer), and then we only see a little bit of what the survivors do. Gen and Roxanne are getting married, but WHY? I can rationalize the cut-off as part of the tragedy–the sudden, shattering end of the idyll is too much to absorb–but it just feels very dissatisfying. It’s a sign of how deeply the book got to me that it could make me so angry and sad.

Every single guest and terrorist is transported by the beauty of Roxanne Coss’ voice, even those who’ve never particularly enjoyed music or even been exposed to it. Does that require some suspension of disbelief? I’m not sure. That they’re hearing it live makes a big difference–it’s not just the sound, it’s the performance, the group psychology, the whole experience. One of the greatest pleasures I get from reading is finding new topics of interest, curiosity, and research. I’ve never liked opera at all, but now I’ll check out a few CDs and who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind.

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