Bel Canto is a novel that displays the best and worst of humankind. In a beginning that is fast paced and violent, the reader is introduced to a set of unsavoury characters, from the barbaric nature of the terrorists, in particular the generals, to the worshipping mannerisms of Roxane Coss. Yet, Anne Patchett beautifully dilutes this prior chaos and constructs a place of familiarity that soon becomes a home of security to all those within it.
The novel forces us to subconsciously to change the way we view human nature. Anne Patchett’s intensely descriptive narrative strips down the false façade of individuals to reveal a raw portrayal of society. She is able to hold a certain ability to entrance the reader throughout, to the extent that we too become the hostages, experiencing the tale of prohibited love.
Her subtle use of understated humour compliments much of her work. It is neither laboured, nor rarely used, but merely enhances the beauty within each of the characters. Although, it may not appear as stereotypically humorous, she is able to define and perfect each of the individuals’ mannerisms, to the extent that the witty narrative is not obvious, but added in within their public and private observations. The amusing narrative becomes more prominent as the tale progresses, and so too do the terrorist’s mind-sets, and attitudes, that soften towards the hostages.
On the surface, it is a situation that appears so brutal, yet it is so quickly overturned into a secluded euphoria. What becomes surprising for the reader is that a certain affection is developed for the characters. With the absence of a clear protagonist, the weight of the narrative falls upon each of the individuals. Hitherto, as the novel progresses it is difficult to distinguish ones fondness between those of the hostages and the terrorists.
Anne Patchett carefully addresses the matters of courtship and love. We, as the reader, are not forced to believe a set of blundering characters professing their love. But instead we are introduced to the delicate issue of clandestine love. The unlikely romance that ensues between Mr Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, is born out of their close captivity. Ann Patchett subtly plays out their elegant courtship. What causes this to differ from so many other romances is that their sentiments of love are not directed through dialog. Indeed, with the help of Mr Hosokawa’s employee; Gen the translator, they are, to a certain degree able to pass on public affections. However, what is so endearing about their love is that although everything within the house is so public; their intimate relations within Roxane Coss’ bedroom are kept private. Not only is it a secret from the household, but also from the reader, for Patchett chooses to leave their love behind closed doors. Indeed, this makes it a more beautiful and respected courtship. With the lack of dialogue between them, they become reliant upon one of our most basic forms of interaction; body language.
In comparison, Patchett also presents the reader with the more thrilling and strictly prohibited love concerning Gen, the hostage, and Carmen, the terrorist. Their romance escalates from Gen teaching the young terrorist how to speak English. Patchett does not throw the reader into a sordid affair, but instead we see that it is born out a yearning of education. Carmen only learns that she desires Gen through her initial want of wisdom and knowledge.
Patchett cleverly lulls, not only the hostages and terrosists, but also the reader into a false sense of security. Once past the initial rush, as the hostages are faced with a barbaric battlefield of mistreatment, the novel takes a steady pace and the individuals partake in a series of monotonous everyday activities, such as chess. However, one is completely unprepared for the explosive ending. Ann Patchett is a master of creating the conclusive unexpected. Throughout the novel, we form bonds and affections for both the hostages and terrorists. It is with this connection that makes the ending so hard to accept. It is at this point that we question ourselves, for the military break in, should, if asked at the beginning of the novel, be the correct and immediate thing to do. However, the euphoria instilled within the house becomes so hypnotising and secluded, that the destruction of it becomes as horrifying, if not more so, than the initial terrorist break in. The emotional ending sees humanity at its most stripped of false pretences. We see powerful figures, such as the Vice President (Ruben Iglesias) weeping over what he feels to be a son of his in the young terrorist; Ishmael. Ann Patchett skilfully concludes the novel as romance still ensues out of the memory of the loved ones lost.
Patchett ultimately proves to be the master of novel’s destiny. She intertwines the brutal resilience and frustration of politics with the tender course of love. It is, in my eyes, a book that engages the reader entirely, and plays out what can only be described as the best and worst of humankind.