S4L Book Club

S4L Book Club - Bel Canto, by Ann PatchettIs everyone reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot? I’m half-way through and very engaged. There are many aspects to this story: social, ethical, scientific. I look forward sorting out my varied thoughts during the discussion in February.

I’m really into the science. Right now we’re listening to/watching an Astronomy course from The Teaching Company; I’m reading Henrietta Lacks; Mike is reading Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin, aloud (evolution); and I’m reading Tide, Feather, Snow, by Miranda Weiss at night (much natural history about AK). Science fascinates me.

Two Bel Canto questions today.

1. At one point Carmen says to Gen, “‘Ask yourself, would it be so awful if we all stayed here in this beautiful house?'” (pg. 206). Both the terrorists and hostages seem to get comfortable with their situation. Do you suppose any actually prefer the situation to the outside world, and do you think that’s reasonable?

2. We’re told the story takes place in an un-named country in South America. Why do you think the author chose to not name a country?

Categories: Reading

8 replies »

  1. Hrmph. The first question is part reading guide and part mine. The second one is all mine. If they’re schoolish, it’s my fault. They’re both things I’d like to talk about.

    Remember, too, that anyone is welcome to send me questions or post them here.

    In my mind, I’m getting at the same thing with the garua question from last week and the question about the un-named country. I was not drawn into this story, and I’m trying to figure out why. I think part of it is because the whole story takes place inside a house, including the walled yard toward the end. Early on, when I realized this was going to be the case, I was disappointed. I immediately thought of Reality TV–Big Brother, or whatever those shows were called. I anticipated being bored, and I think, overall, I was.

    I didn’t find the writing lyrical, I had no sense of place, and nothing seemed to mirror, magnify, or add depth to the emotion of the story. I thought maybe the music would stand in for scenery and weather and place in reflecting the mood, but it didn’t, at least not for me. I continue to wonder if my lack of opera knowledge is hindering my understanding. I think this is why I never got drawn in. Did I miss something? If you were drawn into the story, can you explain why?

    I was mildly annoyed by the choice to not name a country. Was the author trying to say “this could happen anywhere”? Was she trying to play nice-nice with South America? Was she afraid of offending someone? What was the point?

    I think including some of the outside world, juxtaposing or mirroring what was happening in the house with the local community or country, might have been more interesting.

    Did anyone else feel this way? Did you care that the location wasn’t named? Did you feel hemmed in because the story took place in an unchanging environment? Maybe that was the point. Maybe the reader is supposed to feel stifled and bored just as the hostages did, but that’s hardly the recipe for an engaging book, don’t you think?

  2. As for the first question, I do think some of the characters prefer life in the house to life in the Real World, Carmen for one. She comes from poverty, and here she is in an upscale house, with plenty of food, and people showing her courtesy and respect. That’s not such a bad gig. I think probably all of the rebels, excepting maybe the generals, might feel the same way.

    The hostages, however, are more accustomed to a decent life. For them, being cut off from their normal lives is probably more distressing. They miss their loved ones, and for a time at least, they’re not sure if they’ll live through the event.

    On the other hand, once they get comfortable in the situation, and I think they do, they seem to kick back and relax a bit. The day-to-day stresses of family and career aren’t there. Being cut off from routine responsibilities is kind of freeing. It reminds me of our caretaking years. I can imagine it being refreshing to not be able to shoulder the usual burdens–once they fairly comfortable as hostages, I mean.

    I found Carmen very sympathetic when she talked about staying in the house together indefinitely. It was silly and naive, but I believed she wanted to and had good reason to want to.

    I think Gen and Hosokawa might have been content to stay, too. Maybe many of them would have been.

  3. Jen, This may sound like a cope out, but I very much agree whith everything you had to say. I found this a book with some very good moments, but without the power to engage me fully or make me really believe, or care. I think most of the soldiers were happier in the house and would have liked to live there forever. They were children, if not in age, then in experience and vision. I think that Gen and Hosakawa might have been content, but they had reasons to be. I don’t think that Roxane and Hosakawa really expected their relationship to continue after the hostage situation ended. Indeed, would it have had the necessary elements to sustain it?

  4. Perhaps the “schoolish” problem lies with me. One of the things I’ve realized about myself is that things that don’t interest me, really don’t interest me. I kind of turn off when I encounter them. Apparently, one of them is questions that remind me of the essay-type questions we were required to answer in our literature classes in school. I have always enjoyed a book far more when I enjoy it naturally, rather than analyzing it. Your questions, Jen, sometimes strike me as too analytical for any enjoyment to be had. For me…obviously not for everyone. Sorry about that.

    Unnamed country–this suited me quite well. I remain quite geographically ignorant. As such, political happenings in other countries often confuse me. If the country in this book had been named, I would have felt compelled to look it up (which would be a positive thing), and then I’d think that I was missing a good many of the points because I was unaware of its history, both social and political. The very fact that the country was unnamed freed me up. I wasn’t supposed to know anything ahead of time. I could completely draw the country and its environs in my own head, knowing that whatever picture I drew was dead-on perfect. Whatever I needed to know about the country and its peoples was completely in the book and in my head–nowhere else.

    When I first learned that we were reading Bel Canto, I was wary. Terrorists. Hmmm. That, right there, turned me off some. I like to relax and enjoy while I read. Terrorists and guns don’t do that for me. (Not that I don’t enjoy a good thriller…I do. But terrorism doesn’t make for good reading for me.) Did I get pulled into the reading? Yes! I found that I wasn’t reading about terrorists, exactly; I was reading about *people*. All of the characters had quirks and habits and varying traits, both likeable and unlikeable. There weren’t merely people with guns running around and tension and strife. Here were people, hostages and holders alike, who were interesting and compelling. I wanted to keep reading. The focus wasn’t on the demands the terrorists were making, but on the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of the house. I didn’t get tired of the house. I loved the detail and Patchett’s descriptions. (Insert my favorite lines from the story here.)

  5. It’s true that I like to analyze stories–books, movies, anything. My SIL is not thrilled when I want to analyze a movie after watching it, so you’re not alone, Shelly. It may have something to do with my interest in writing stories, but there’s more to it than that; I think I’d analyze even if I weren’t a writer.

    And this brings up a question I’ll pose tomorrow. Coming up with questions doesn’t seem to be a problem for me. Coming up with *good* ones, well, that’s another story!

    I think I could have liked the unvarying setting, maybe seen it as an interesting challenge, had I liked other parts of the story–the details, the characters, anything. But the truth is, I found little to like. The story just wasn’t my cup of chai. That doesn’t make it a bad story; it just makes it a story I didn’t find compelling.

    I often like understated stories that are simply about people, but I didn’t care for these particular people. Gen and Carmen were the only characters I cared about and found interesting. They were the only ones that seemed to have depth. Messner had potential, but that potential wasn’t developed. A lot of time and details were spent on a lot of people who were never fully developed and didn’t contribute to the larger overall story.

    I’m very glad someone *did* like the story. It would be awful to select a book no one enjoyed. 🙂