What a joy it is to discover Ann Patchett! Following on from State Of Wonder I decided to read her Orange Prize winning novel. Patchett’s writing is exquisitely simple and engages you so subtly and skilfully it is like no effort is required. You are lost in the story, carried along with her words and connected to all the characters. Why I haven’t read her sooner is completely baffling.
Bel Canto is set in an unnamed South American country whose Vice President is throwing a birthday party for a Japanese businessman. A part of the celebrations a world-renowned American Soprano is performing. However events go awry when the Vice President’s residence, where the party is being held, is stormed by terrorists and all the guests taken hostage.
As a storyline goes this sounds more like an action thriller than literary fiction but in the hands of Ann Patchett you get a novel beyond all expectations. The terrorists’ target was actually the country’s President who skipped the party to watch his favourite soap opera. Instead they are left with a houseful of hostages. As the situation drags on for weeks we get to know hostage and terrorist alike as bonds are formed between captor and captive as well as between the hostages who come from all over the world. Caught in the middle is a young translator who is the only bridge between all these people. Stripped of language and nationality each character is boiled down to their essentials and find freedom within their captivity until the end of the hostage drama is the worst thing that could possibly happen.
A captivating and mesmerizing portrait of humanity and love by a writer beyond comparison.