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16 June 2013

Book Review: Bel Canto - Ann Patchett

Bel CantoBel Canto by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I avoided this when it first came out because I figured it was about how the beauty of the voice can transcend violence and, being an about-to-be-failed singer, I didn't really want to delve into that glorious, if flawed, luxury of philosophical thought.

But I was on vacation this week.  And this book was sitting on my sister-in-law's bookshelf.  And I thought, "12 years is long enough to avoid a book."  So I dove in.

Phrases like "Most of the time we're loved for what we can do rather than for who we are" would have bothered the hell out of me 12 years ago.  But I was surprised to find that in my reading of the text, in my current state of life, singing seemed to have very little to do with the driving force of the plot.  Perhaps if I had read it 12 years ago when my own singing was still close, I would have felt differently.  But I viewed Roxane Coss less as a real-life diva and more as a representation of how art can be made to transcend language, societal ladder rungs and even violence.  But bullets still kill, no matter how heavenly the music may be.

At its core, this is a desert island story.  A Stockholm Syndrome exploration.  A ragtag assortment of characters make a life together because they have to.  And they begin, as humans do, to justify it.  To love it.  To fear leaving it even as they feared entering it in the first place.  It is a book, in the end, not about how art transcends humanity but how humans transcend humanity, using the simple tools of chosen oblivion and delusion.

The book ponders and wanders.  Then it ends abruptly and life for its characters ends or moves on in an unexpected direction.  And that's that.  Much like real life.

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