Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchet


Author: Ann Patchet
TitleBel Canto
Narrator: Anna Fields
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks, 2001.
Summary/Review:

This novel is set in an unnamed Latin American nation that lures a powerful Japanese business man to a birthday party in his honor with an intimate performance by his favorite operatic soprano.  A group of revolutionaries attacks the mansion and takes everyone hostage and settle into a hostage situation that carries on for months.  Patchet is great at narrating the interior lives of various characters – hostages and captors alike – and the relationships that grow among them until rather surreally they settle into patterns where the lines between the two groups are blurred and daily life becomes something of a prosperous summer camp.  Patchet is great with the character work – the Japanese businessman and the opera singer are joined by the gracious host of the Vice President, a shy girl among the terrorists, the indispensable translator, and the Swiss Red Cross negotiator among others.  The plot grows increasingly absurd and stretching credulity in the latter parts of the novel, but nevertheless an entertaining with even doses humor and underlying tension.

Rating: ***

Book Reviews: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


Author: Shirley Jackson
TitleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle
Narrator:  Bernadette Dunne
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010)
Summary/Review:

This mystery/thriller focuses on the survivors of the well-to-do Blackwood family six years after most of the family met their end when a poisoner put arsenic in the sugar for their dessert of berries.  The novel is narrated by the teenager Mary Katherine or “Merricat” who had been sent to her room without dinner the night of the poisoning.  Her Uncle Julian survived the poisoning but is severely disabled.  The other survivor is Merricat’s elder sister Constance who did not take sugar on her berries and was tried and acquitted for the crime but is still seen as the villain in the local community.  Only Merricat ventures outside of the family home to do the shopping and there meets with open derision toward her family from the villagers.  This uneasy life is further disrupted when a cousin named Charles moves into the home in what only Merricat is initially able to recognize as an attempt to gain the Blackwood family fortune.  Merricat is an unreliable narrator and she is convinced that she must protect her home using sympathetic magic while her only “friend” is a cat.  I won’t go into the details of the revelations and incidents that follow but it is a moody and creepy novel balanced with sympathetic portrayals of unusual characters.
Recommended booksThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Rating: ***