Book Review: “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett

bel canto

Title:  Bel Canto

Author:  Ann Patchett

Synopsis (from  Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening — until a band of gunwielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.


My thoughts:  I know I am a little late to this party since apparently the rest of the world read and loved this book when it came out in 2001.   From reviews I have read about the book, I am getting the picture that people either loved or hated this book.  I usually can come up with some redeeming value in most books I read, but I have to fall on the side of strongly disliking this book for any number of reasons.  And I for the life of me can’t figure out how this book won extreme accolades and numerous awards.  How is this even possible?


First of all, I just couldn’t seem to get passed how completely unrealistic the entire overall theme of the book was.  A group of terrorists come in and take over a large birthday party of diplomats and other important people holding them all hostage.  Sounds like an exciting and plausible plot, until you realize that they are held captive for months and months and seem to be living just normally in this house.  What???  The book describes in painful detail how the terrorists are often off sleeping or doing other things, and you are telling me that out of the 59 hostages that are left, they wouldn’t even once try to plot to overthrow the terrorists.  Hmmmm.  Perhaps she was trying to portray the realities of Stockholm syndrome, but it missed the mark for me.  I know it’s fiction, but I just couldn’t get past the ridiculousness of it.

Secondly, I found almost all of the characters portrayed ultimately unlikeable.  Even through the description of their daily activities in “captivity” (and I use this in quotes, because it certainly didn’t feel like they were in captivity), I wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the characters.  In fact, I could argue that there were many characters, including the famous opera singer, Roxane Coss that were just annoying, needlessly overdramatized, and unlikeable.

Thirdly, to me at least, the book seemed to go almost no where.  It was simply an account of these 59 hostages living out their daily lives in this house.  It was boring, dragged along, and frankly was just plain tedious with the author’s overdetailed passages about completely meaningless things.  Yes, I believe I know the themes the author was trying to go for in this novel, perhaps the power of music to bring people together in a time of tragedy. . . missed the mark.  Perhaps, that love transcends all differences and obstacles . . . missed the mark.

Lastly, but certainly not least of course was the ending.  In short, the ending was abrupt and just plain ridiculous.  And don’t get me started on the epilogue . . . if I thought the ending was ridiculous, the epilogue felt like it came completely from outer space.  What??

I picked up Bel Canto to give Ann Patchett another try after my book club State of Wonder and I just couldn’t get on board with it.  I think I may have to be done with this author, because it is clear we are just not on the same page.

Overall, Bel Canto missed the mark for me in so many different areas.

Kudos to the thousands and thousands of readers who absolutely loved this book.  I just don’t see it.

And remember,

Books are life,


1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction

One response to “Book Review: “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett

  1. Gram

    It was on my t-b-r list – yes, I am also late to the party – for a reason I guess. Now it’s off! Thanks for the complete review instead of just praise words.

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