View Poll Results: Bel Canto: Final Verdict

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  • * Waste of time. Wouldn't recommend.

    0 0%
  • ** Didn't like it much.

    0 0%
  • *** Average.

    0 0%
  • **** It is a good book.

    6 100.00%
  • ***** Liked it very much. Would strongly recommend it.

    0 0%
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Thread: April '12 / Orange Prize Winners Reading: Bel Canto

  1. #31
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    For me what made this a great book instead of just a good book was the scene where Fyodorov professes his love for Roxane. Up until then, I was reading along and thinking, ah yes, a book about Stockholm Syndrome, and then, yes, yes, this is how people would act if thrown together by circumstance. But when I read this chapter, I woke up and started paying attention.

    It seems to me the Fyodorov scene covers much of what we’ve been chatting about on this thread concerning the human condition: art, language, politics, ideology, world-view, love, and hate. But more than that, I thought it brought the reader into the story – made the reader part of the story.

    Initially Gen is a little put out at being torn away from Carmen so that he can translate for Fyodorov. Then, perhaps because he has just come from Carmen and sees Roxane and Mr. Hosokawa together, it begins to dawn on him that there is something more than friendship between the two of them. As Fyodorov enters to face Roxane he is so nervous that he looks sick to her. She thinks he looks like Christopf right before he died – and not all that long after Christopf had professed his love for Roxane. Then Fyodorov decides his planned speech is inadequate and he must start from the beginning, so he tells a beautiful little story from his childhood about an Art Book, his Grandmother, the war, and growing up in Petrograd/Leningrad/St. Petersburg under Communism. Then he says he loves her.

    And so Fyodorov sits back relieved to have said his peace, and presumably satisfied with his performance. Roxane and Gen sit there a moment, stunned. And that is where, I think, the reader enters the novel. I did anyway. Patchett had drawn me into the novel before I knew what was going on. You see, I’m cringing in my seat, waiting for the awkward rejection by Roxane. I know it will happen, it has to – she’s a snob and he’s a boor, right? Well, Roxane buys a little time by making an empathetic observation about Fyodorov’s story and then as she starts to comment on his declaration of love, he cuts her off and tells her it his gift to her and he requires nothing in return:

    …But it is never about who has given what. That is not the way to think of gifts. This is not business we are conducting. Would I be pleased if you were to say you loved me as well? That what you wanted was to come to Russia and live with the Secretary of Commerce, attend state dinners, drink your coffee in my bed? A beautiful thought, surely, but my wife would not be pleased. When you think of love you think as an American. You must think like a Russian. It is a more expansive view.
    And I had to admit he was right. I was thinking like an American. And I had to admit that I should reconsider some of my cultural assumptions and prejudices.
    Like a blind man with a gun
    WHOO!

  2. #32
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Because I am reading a lot of Greek literature right now I cannot help but to see this book almost in terms of a Greek tragedy as many of the characters seem to represent different figures of Greek mythology, though it is not a perfect comparison just something that has popped into my head.

    At first I thought of Roxanne as being as one of the muses because of her music, and the fact that her music is a uniting force between everyone else and works to inspire the others and it had served to make several of the people in the room wish they themselves could produce music so they could act the role of her accompanists. But in a way I also see her as being like a Siren, for it was the temptation of her signing which had ultimately led them all into danger.

    Messner is like Hermes, the messenger god who has the power to travel between the two different worlds. The world outside and the world inside.

    The three Generals I see kind of like the three fates, for they do have the power of life and death over those inside, and can determine what becomes of them. In addition their actions might also influence and determine how those outside react and what becomes of them all.

    The Vice President I see as sort of Dionysus since he is the host of the party.

    Gen is the one that remains the odd man out as I have been able to quite decide where he might fit in.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  3. #33
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Muse View Post
    Because I am reading a lot of Greek literature right now I cannot help but to see this book almost in terms of a Greek tragedy as many of the characters seem to represent different figures of Greek mythology, though it is not a perfect comparison just something that has popped into my head.

    At first I thought of Roxanne as being as one of the muses because of her music, and the fact that her music is a uniting force between everyone else and works to inspire the others and it had served to make several of the people in the room wish they themselves could produce music so they could act the role of her accompanists. But in a way I also see her as being like a Siren, for it was the temptation of her signing which had ultimately led them all into danger.

    Messner is like Hermes, the messenger god who has the power to travel between the two different worlds. The world outside and the world inside.

    The three Generals I see kind of like the three fates, for they do have the power of life and death over those inside, and can determine what becomes of them. In addition their actions might also influence and determine how those outside react and what becomes of them all.

    The Vice President I see as sort of Dionysus since he is the host of the party.

    Gen is the one that remains the odd man out as I have been able to quite decide where he might fit in.
    Interesting. I would not associate the Vice President with Dionysus - but I see where you got that from. The Vice President would be more like Hestia - goddess of the hearth.

    Gen is a difficult one to place. For someone I think Prometheus: as Prometheus brings fire to the people, so Gen brings language. Gen is not punished for this though. Or maybe he is Proteus - taking on many forms depending who he is with.

    When you first brought up the comparison between the novel and Greek tragedy, I thought you meant in terms of structure. The book conforms to the structure of Greek tragedy in the Aristotelian sense: there is a unity of place, time and action that Aristotle describes in his Poetics. But of course you find these same unities in many operas (outside of grand operas) and to say that this novel follows the structure of an opera is a more logical claim.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  4. #34
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    Interesting. I would not associate the Vice President with Dionysus - but I see where you got that from. The Vice President would be more like Hestia - goddess of the hearth.
    I had thought about the possibility of Hera for the Vice President, but in part I was also thinking of the way in which all the hostages like the VP. There is an endearing trait to his personality and in the way in which he continues on with his host duties, makes him have a certain up beat quality.

    But of course none of it fits in perfectly and I do not necessarily think the author was really intended to make a sort of modern reimagining of Greek Mythology, it is just where my mind is because of some of my other reading right now I could not help making these compressions with the characters.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  5. #35
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    I find it ironic the way in which while Gen serves as the voice for everyone else, he cannot find his own voice and cannot speak for himself. He could not at first bring himself to approach Carmen because he could not think of the words to speak to her, when he had to speak for himself, and though he was the translator, in a way he needed Messner as a means for him to be able to speak to her.


    The other thing I have noticed is the way in which it does not seem as if people truly sees Gen as a human being, but rather they see him as a tool, they see him for what he can do for them. It never seems to occur to anyone to speak to Gen for his own sake, or that he might actually like to have a conversation on his own accord. As when he has his first encounter with Fyodorov. Gen had been denied the opportunity to speak Fyodorov about the topics of which he was interested in speaking to him about because as soon as Foydorov secured Gen's services for his own intentions, he did not give Gen a second thought and rejoined his group of Russians.

    And while this novel does not focus upon the politics, there is still a certain political side to it, as we know the terrorists belong to some liberation group which seems to have a socialist agenda, and in considering that I cannot help but notice the way in which there does seem to be an attitude among the hostages that those who have some skill or ability it is treated as if it does belong to the community as a whole. It does not really seem to occur to anyone to actually ask Gen if he wants to translate for them, but it is taken for granted that he will do it because he has something which will be useful for them so it is seen as a given that he will help them.

    As well Roxanne Cross is valued for her signing and her music, for that which she can offer to the group. They view her signing as something which belongs to them all.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  6. #36
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    I thought one of the points of the book was that human nature trumps politics, which may sound ludicrous, being that humans are a political animal, but I suppose I'm saying human nature trumps political ideology. When people of vastly different political or religious beliefs, cultures, and backgrounds are thrown together by circumstance they will tend to connect on a more basic level rather than hold to their dogma. This point has been made by any number of stories where the characters are together by accident - lifeboats, POW camps, plane crashes in the jungle, etc.

    This book seemed to go further and say that in such a situation, people would tend towards their own nature. That is to say, the vice president became a gardener, Carmen became a student, Ishmael became an artist of sorts, Roxane remained true to herself but let her guard down (hair went gray, makeup gone), and Mr Hosokawa, the stoic Japanese businessman, became a lover.
    Like a blind man with a gun
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  7. #37
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    I am curious about the theme of love which seems to be developing as important within the book. Is it just part of capturing the human experience and the need/importance of forming human connections?

    Thibault rediscovers his love for his wife
    Of course just about every man in the room seems to be in love with Roxane Cross, while she herself seems to have fallen in love with Mr. Hosokawa, and Fyodorov officially declares his love to Roxane.
    Than there is Gen and Carmen

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  8. #38
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    It seems like a necessary plot device. You can't have people in close quarters and not explore the theme of love. Then again, most of the relationships are either sexual lust or idealization, only Simon is really in love.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  9. #39
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Muse View Post
    I am curious about the theme of love which seems to be developing as important within the book. Is it just part of capturing the human experience and the need/importance of forming human connections?

    Thibault rediscovers his love for his wife
    Of course just about every man in the room seems to be in love with Roxane Cross, while she herself seems to have fallen in love with Mr. Hosokawa, and Fyodorov officially declares his love to Roxane.
    Than there is Gen and Carmen
    "Tattooed knuckles gonna spell his fate, one said Love and the other Hate."

    Sorry, I've been over on the Earworm thread, and that one's stuck in my head.

    I was thinking a similar thought, and also that the book seems to get at both extremes of the human experience: Love and Hate, and in one climactic scene those two extremes at the same time. I'm thinking of Mr. Hosokawa and Carmen during the 'rescue'.
    Like a blind man with a gun
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  10. #40
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    It seems like a necessary plot device. You can't have people in close quarters and not explore the theme of love. Then again, most of the relationships are either sexual lust or idealization, only Simon is really in love.
    That in itself is rather interesting in a way isn't? Considering the fact that it seems so many of the other characters have dissatisfactory marriages. Considering the positions of these individuals in society, you get the sense that many them perhaps had married for reasons other than purely being in love. They wanted a certain life, or to create a certain image for themselves, but it seems there is something lacking in many of their marriages. But Thiabult is able to rediscover in his wife and marriage that which he had never been able to realize or see before, while others instead are projecting their fantasies upon Roxane Cross to try and obtain that which they are missing in their lives.
    Last edited by Dark Muse; 04-22-2012 at 10:25 PM.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  11. #41
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Well, I'll ask the 100 dollar question then: was the marriage at the end of the book out of love, and if so - love for whom?
    Like a blind man with a gun
    WHOO!

  12. #42
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sancho View Post
    Well, I'll ask the 100 dollar question then: was the marriage at the end of the book out of love, and if so - love for whom?
    It seems a bit hard to envision that Gen and Roxane suddenly discovered that they were in love with each other, though who knows what could have happened during the time after they were "rescued."

    But it seems more likely to me that they are brought together in the shared grief of what they could not have, or who they could not have.

    In a way I do think they had married for love, though I am not sure if it was necessarily out of love for each other, at least I do not think they truly had a passionate, romantic love for each other, but through being with each other they could be close to those they could no longer be with.

    Perhaps in being together they can give each other hope, they were I think bonded together by what happened, and in each other they can keep those memories, and hold that moment.

    In a way I think it is kind of symbolic that she would be with Gen, as considering that just about every other man in the room had been in love with her, and he was the voice of them all, and yet he had trouble finding his own voice. Perhaps Gen's marriage to Roaxne is the love that they all had for her, and the way in which she bonded them together. Maybe Gen is the proxy for this sort of universal love.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  13. #43
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    My biggest qualm with the ending is it cuts Carmen out of it completely. The focus shifts the to importance of Mr. Hosokawa (as seen in the final marriage) but Carmen barely gets a thought.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  14. #44
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    My biggest qualm with the ending is it cuts Carmen out of it completely. The focus shifts the to importance of Mr. Hosokawa (as seen in the final marriage) but Carmen barely gets a thought.
    I did not quite get that impression. Gen questions Simon as to wheather or not anything was said of Carmen in the new papers of France, and Simon's own last thoughts at the end of the book are of Carmen.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  15. #45
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    I enjoyed it for the most part, though I thought it got quite slow at parts and when the romance kicked up a notch I lost a lot of interest--love stories aren't really my thing. That being said, I was quite sad as the terrorists were gunned down, especially Hosokawa, Carmen (of course), but also Ishmael.

    My favorite aspect of the novel was how much music, and the power of music to impact people's lives, played a role in the narrative. I often found myself YouTubing the varies arias and pieces mentioned and listening to them as I read. It made of an interesting and unique reading experience. I also liked how the love story really reflected how a lot of opera tragedies go--I can practically see the two lovers, Roxane and Gen, powerfully singing to the heavens as the weep of the corpses of their lovers. In an interview at the end of the edition I read, Pratchett said the melodrama sprinkled throughout the novel was intentional because she wanted that sort of opera feel for the novel.

    As for Messner, I think he represented futility. In the grand scheme of things, he accomplished nothing. He completely failed, actually, and he rarely indicated that he really cared. To me he represented the apathy and futility of humanity.

    One thing I didn't get: throughout the novel it's being discussed how the police force is digging underneath with the intent to attack from out of the ground; Messner even confirms this as he feels the vibrations under his feet. And then the soldier just burst in through the windows? Or did I miss something? I was drowsy when reading the end.

    I'd give it a 7/10. She is obviously an excellent writer when it comes to style. I wanted to give it a 3 because everyone giving it a 4 on here rankled me, but I don't round down.

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