One of the reviews on Amazon for Bel Canto says that it “should be on the list of every literate music lover." (Lloyd Moss, WXQR) I would consider myself to fit that description. I am a classically trained pianist, and I have been playing for over twenty years. Unfortunately, I find myself disagreeing with Mr. Moss. While I understood Bel Canto, I didn't like it. Some books are written beautifully and have a story to match. Not so with Bel Canto. The story wasn't as good as the prose.
Bel Canto is written in such a way that you feel like you're listening to an opera written in the bel canto style. It is lyric, it is expressive, and it focuses more on how words are said than what is being said. As a result, the prose is beautiful, but the book is boring. When listening to opera in the bel canto style, the best part is listening to the voices of talented people and letting the music wash over you. When I'm reading for over six hours, I need more than lyrical language to keep my attention. I need a story. The story stagnates and doesn't progress until the end. Little changes happen every so often, but when the story reached a point where I thought it would take maybe another hour to finish, my Kindle told me there was still over four hours left.
The story is a bit involved, but the basic summary is as follows. A group of diplomats from different countries are gathered together for a famous Japanese businessman's birthday party. They are in a small South American country that is never specified. This country hosted the birthday party in an attempt to get the businessman to build a factory within their borders. As entertainment for the evening, the host country secured the businessman's favorite opera singer. After her final song of the evening ends, the group is ambushed and taken captive by terrorists looking to kidnap the president of the host country. However, the president had made the last minute decision to stay home and watch his favorite soap opera. The terrorists plots were foiled, so they instead take the party attendees as their hostages. The next day, they release those who are sick and all but one of the women, keeping the men as hostages. The woman they keep is the opera singer. And then the story slows to crawl. The hostages are held for months. Little things change. Characters fall in love. Captives become friends with their captors. Little by little over several hours of reading, the story inches forward. It finishes with a bang when the book comes to a close.
I actually loved the writing style of this book. It was slow, but so is Pride and Prejudice. What I didn't like was the story. One of the things guaranteed to make me angry in any story is when infidelity is justified. In Bel Canto, the businessman and the opera singer fall in love and eventually sleep together. For the last month or so, they spend their nights together. The businessman is married. He never loved his wife, but they had been dutiful to each other. Right up until the businessman had his chance with the opera singer he worshipped. Because his wife was on the outside, she was easily forgotten. Everyone felt they were in a separate world - their old lives had ceased to exist, and there was only life inside their captivity.
Infidelity is one thing for which I can't make allowances. There are others, but infidelity is a big one. I've seen too many lives ripped apart and too many people made miserable for me to agree with its romanticization. It's wholly based in selfishness and weakness, and it has no place in my hero or heroine. I want loyalty in the face of trials. I want someone who stays true to their vows, who shows integrity, even in tough situations where their spouse is away.
This book is for adults only. There are both innuendo and mildly explicit scenes. There is also some violence and swearing, including the f-word. There isn't a lot of swearing. When there is, it's usually the f-word. Also, I don't think teenagers would appreciate the writing at all. I can’t recommend this book to anyone, but I also understand that the things that bother me aren't going to bother other people. If you're in it just for the prose, you won't be disappointed.
For those looking for a happy ending: SPOILER ALERT: This book didn't end well. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: The wrong people ended up together, and I'm not just saying that because of the infidelity. It felt like the people at the end only got together because the ones they really loved died. The whole end was sad. As evidenced by the name of my blog, I like books that end happily. But, as I said earlier, though I didn't like the story, I understood the book. I understood and heard the music of the writing. I felt the hidden story the writer was trying to convey. And it was a tragic opera.