From the bestselling author of The Magician's Assistant comes a novel of love, opera, and terrorism set in South America. Two couples, complete opposites, fall in love; sexual identities become confused; and a horrific imprisonment is transformed into an unexpected heaven on earth.
...although her version of real-life events is frequently fantastical and defiantly romantic, the playfulness of artistic licence doesn't lead to a novel as light-hearted as its setup suggests ... As overtures to novels go, this one is pretty electrifying ... Like that of her heroine, Patchett's great talent in Bel Canto is one of range. With bravura confidence and inventiveness she varies her pace to encompass both lightning flashes of brutality and terror and long stretches of incarcerated ennui. The novel's sensibilities extend from the sly wit of observational humour to subtle, mournful insights into the nature of yearning and desire. Like the blueprint of operatic performance that she has imported, Patchett slides from strutting camp to high tragedy, minute social comedy to sublime romanticism ... Patchett's stereotypical foreigners evoke humour rather than glibness ... If the bathetic conclusion of the epilogue disappoints, it is unsurprising but nonetheless lamentable. The house's bemused inmates are not alone in hoping that the spell would never end.
At first, Bel Canto seems a departure for Patchett, whose previous novels have demonstrated her precise eye for the shadings of human interaction played out on small stage ... Unfortunately, Patchett strains a bit too hard to give the revolutionaries similar dimensions ... Nevertheless, especially early on, Bel Canto often shows Patchett doing what she does best -- offering fine insights into the various ways in which human connections can be forged, whatever pressures the world may place upon them.
This is a story of passionate, doomed love; of the glory of art; of the triumph of our shared humanity over the forces that divide us, and a couple of other unbearably cheesy themes, and yet Patchett makes it work, completely ... For in spite of the ripe emotionality of Bel Canto, Patchett proves herself from the start to be too unsentimental and honest to serve up a contrived ending. You can tell by the book's host of tart observations...that this is one writer who won't bullshit us.