I couldn’t help thinking of that old movie Dog Day Afternoon while reading this story. Both deal with hostage situations that take unexpected turns, some of them comical. It is quirks of humanity that make both works memorable.
Bel Canto, Ann Patchett’s fourth novel, deals with a formal gathering of dignitaries in an unnamed country. During the event a gang of terrorists bursts into the house and takes everyone captive.
Like most worthwhile novels, this one is about the characters, each of whom Ann Patchett deftly sketches to draw us into their lives and make us care about them. Mister Hosokawa, the guest of honor, came to the event only because of his passion for opera. Roxanne Coss, a famous soprano, is being paid to sing arias on his birthday. Vice President Ruben Iglesias, the reluctant host, is present because the President stayed home to watch his favorite TV show. Among the terrorists, the most interesting are the young ones such as Carmen, who tries to blend in by pretending to be a boy, and Cesar, who discovers during the siege his own talent for vocal acrobatics.
During the standoff, the hostages and their captors gradually form relationships. Even the terrorist leaders find their own diversions as negotiations with the government drag on.
Each Patchett novel presents a unique scenario, and the author always does her homework. In this case, she demonstrates an impressive command of musical knowledge that serves to deepen our understanding of the characters and the worlds they inhabit. If you haven’t discovered her books yet, take your pick. You won’t be disappointed.
I wish I could give this story the five stars it deserves. Reluctantly, I have reduced my rating to four stars due to a few instances of offensive language.