Monday, December 10, 2012

In which I fulfill my contractual obligations

Bel Canto easily wins the prize for the book I have most often put in my suitcase or purse with the intention of reading it, but then not reading it, and even buying other books to read instead. I threw it into my box at the Open Books warehouse sale with Alice because she said she liked it and the box was one flat price. Since then it's done a lot of traveling. But I have finally, at last, read it, and I thought it was therefore appropriate to make it the book post that breaks my not-posting spell, even though I have four (I know, I KNOW) other books that I could potentially write about. (The other ridiculous thing about the non-posting spell is that I made a special effort to post even when I was travelling for two weeks, and then promptly dropped the ball as soon as I got back home.)

So, Bel Canto is a focused sort of book. An opera singer, a Japanese businessman, and a hodge-podge of international guests are taken hostage in an unnamed Latin American country. As the days and weeks go by, relationships start to break down barriers and suddenly potential for life and happiness is everywhere despite the outwardly desperate circumstances. In the end, the "crisis" is more like an unreal, almost magical, moment outside of time -- although, of course, it has to end eventually, in a sudden burst of tragedy.

"Telling detail" is a difficult thing to achieve in writing -- everyone wants to be able to throw in that one little action or trait, wrapped in the perfect bit of language, that will instantly transmit the author's vision to the reader. Patchett is very good at using detail to convey a lot of information, and her descriptions of characters and events and motivations really sucked me in. Every character is distinctly, recognizably a person (well, except for the thirty or so hostages who pretty much don't get mentioned, but that seems inevitable). Once I started the book, it was very easy to keep going to the end. This is really good fiction: enjoyable, engrossing; not overly serious but full of enough humanity to feel worthwhile in some deeper sense.

Ugh, that was so many words that I had to type with my poor little fingers. Is there something else I'm supposed to put in a post? Whatever. Here, it's broadly opera: a bit of The Messiah.

MUSIC, feel its POWER.