Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Club Report: What We Thought of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Book: Bel Canto by Ann Pachett
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: A
For: Book Club
From: the library

I read this book several years ago and loved it. So when I saw it was on the library's book club set list, I suggested it to the book club and it was our book of discussion last night. And once again, I learned that just because I love a book and think it's amazing does not mean everyone else will think the same thing! Amazing how that works! :)

For those who haven't read this one, it's about a party gone very very wrong. During a Japanese business man's birthday party, where his most favorite opera singer has come as a special guest, terrorists infiltrate the home and take the whole group hostage. They have demands, and they hoped the president of the unnamed country would be there so they could get some of those demands met. Well, he's not there; he had a "change of plans." So this hostage situation ends up being drawn out over several months and what happens between the hostages and the terrorists in the meantime is what this book is about.

Reasons why I loved it: (quoting from my own comment on Goodreads!)

1. The feelings and discussions about music speak to me.
2. The love story is moving.
3. The character development is fabulous.
4. The emotional involvement is intense.
5. The ending is tragic (but I still don't like the epilogue ending. It was weird and wrong.)
6. The writing is lyrical, yet simple, which is the kind of writing I'm drawn to.
7. There's so many quotes from this book that I love, but there was one that really stood out to me this time. It is found near the end of the book when one of the boy terrorists is learning how to sing and the terrorist general observes:
"It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how." Wow. Does that not make you sit back and wonder about your own life, and what you might/could/should perhaps be doing with it?
8. I love it when the line between the good guys and the bad guys is very very blurry.

Some observations made at book club last night regarding Bel Canto (small spoilers possible):
  • For some people, the book was completely ruined by the epilogue, even if they enjoyed the writing, the characters and the stories in the whole rest of the book.
  • Some people didn't agree with ANY of my statements above, meaning they didn't connect with any of the characters, or feel any emotional attachment to their situation or concern about what might happen to them.
  • Several people did agree that the writing was quite intriguing and enjoyable.
  • Several others felt the writing was boring and compared it to Faulkner, as in, long and drawn out.
  • Most of us agreed that opera is not the type of music that would draw a crowd of complete strangers together.
  • Most of us also agreed that listening to a soprano opera diva practice all day long would wear on the nerves instead of making us hang on every note in awe.
  • All of us learned that this book was based on a real life hostage situation that happened in Lima Peru in 1996.
  • Most of us loved the love stories, but some of us felt that one was authentic and one was not.
  • For the most part, I think we all enjoyed the book, despite it's various flaws.
Have you read this book? Do you agree with the book club's observations, or not?

P.S. I had fun playing everyone some opera music as we gathered last night. I don't really know what everyone else thought, but I thought it was quite fun! Here's a sample:

Now, even if you don't like opera, you gotta love that!! :)


  1. Everyone I know loved this book. Me -- I started it 4 years ago, read 40 pages, and couldn't read another word. Can't remember why -- but was totally turned off. Maybe I should make my book group pick it, so I'm forced to finish it.

  2. I liked it, didn't lurve it. Some of the relationships worked better for me than others if I remember correctly.
    The thing that bugged me the most: with all the military and Generals in the room, she had to name the translator Gen. There had to be a more distinctive name available.

  3. Lol. Like Faulkner, eh? Thanks for my laugh for the day. I can't see the comparison at all. But I adore this book. And the epilogue to boot. Sorry! :)

    I bet it did make for good discussion and I'm glad you picked it.

  4. Gerbera: It would be interesting to see what you think if you give it another try.

    Raidergirl: Interesting that you were bugged by that name. Which reminds me! I meant to ask in my post.. we wondered if it's pronounced with a soft G or a hard G... what do you think?

    Angie: Glad to provide some comedy relief for your day! Several people actually thought that, though I didn't understand the comparison.

  5. It felt Faulknerian to me in that it jumped all over the place - stream of consciousness writing is very hard for me to enjoy. The skipping from one person to the next. But, I did enjoy some of the book - just feel bad I probably made it sound like I hated it! :)

  6. My book club read and discussed this six years ago, so I don't remember much about the book or the discussion.

    I do think that most of us enjoyed it, and that we had a good discussion of it. I'm glad your group had a good discussion, even if everyone didn't like it.

  7. I read this book not long after it came out and LOVED it. I felt, like you, that character development was terrific and the plot was fantastic to me. What a great premise to build a story on.

    I'm surprised to hear you say that no one thought that people wouldn't gather for a night of opera; a group of total strangers! Isn't that just like listening to an author? I gathered this week with a group of total strangers to hear an author I had never heard before and it was great! Music, books, athletics - they bring total strangers together with one singular commonality. I also found the wonderful piece that you shared via youtube to be relaxing and downright fun. Music can do that. Even music that's not our favorite genre can eventually soothe us; lullabies for some may grate on someone else's nerves yet we may eventually find comfort there as they are repeated over and over. I think how my teenagers music has become some of my favorite music now.

    What a terrific discussion. That's what Book Group should do! It's not nearly as much fun if everyone loves the book - then discussion doesn't have the same intensity and passion. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  8. I loved it and suggested it to my book club also! They mostly liked it, but maybe not as much as me. I can't see Faulkner AT ALL, but I am amused by your point that listening to the diva would wear on your nerves! That never occurred to me and I completely agree. And the epilogue surprised me, but I wouldn't say it ruined the book for me.

  9. Melissa: No, you didn't sound like you hated it. I got the feeling that it was just "ho-hum" for you.

    Imbookingit: Yes, it was a fun discussion, but we are getting pretty good these days at getting a good discussion going no matter the book!

    Inside a Book: I didn't mean that they wouldn't gather for that initial party to hear the singer, but that her singing, through all those months of captivity, would end up uniting them. Most of us just felt that opera is such an acquired taste, and that so many people DON'T enjoy it, that realistically it seems like some of them wouldn't have been enjoying the opera part of the experience at all. Know what I mean? But then again, my own thinking is that I really HOPED it actually would. And yes, I agree that things you at first think you don't like, end up growing on you and it turns out you love it!

    Karen: I played my group a CD of just constant soprano singing opera and asked them could they listen to that over and over and over again. I just got laughs! But like Inside a Book says... it just might grow on you!

  10. I started this book but couldn't get into it. I still have it, so I may give it another try. I find that sometimes I have to be in the right mood for a certain book.

    Your question about how Gen is pronounced is interesting, because I found that running through my mind while reading it and it frustrated me! I don't know why. It just bothered me that it wasn't clear :)

  11. I've had this book on my shelf for years but it is on a challenge list for this year so I'm hoping to get to it. I LOVED the opera clip (even though I'm not usually a fan). I think I'll get an opera CD to listen to when I read it - it might add to the experience. :)



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