Book Review: BEL CANTO, by Ann Patchett

BEL CANTO is one of those books that I picked up purely for the concept--a dinner party, somewhere in South America, taken hostage by guerillas? The guests' captivity evolving slowly into something beautiful but doomed?

And it's true, the story itself was something to be reckoned with, and Patchett handled it expertly--the details she latched onto and illuminated, the very weight and feel of the book were both devastating and deeply satisfying. BEL CANTO certainly falls in the category of books that end too quickly. I could have gone on reading it for months.

Another big selling point is that BEL CANTO has one of the most beautiful opening scenes I've read in a long time. The first sentence: When the lights went off, the accompanist kissed her. I started on that one in the book store and didn't stop until I was fifteen pages into the story, and I'm not generally caught by that kissy-kissy stuff. It was the very poise of the characters, the sheer density of the scene, the details that I remember more vividly now that I've finished the book (the smell of candles freshly snuffed, the warm close air of the dining room) that made that scene so entrancing and stuck it so firmly in my imagination.

The good news? Patchett keeps that up, that sense of ambience, for the entire book.


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