Archive for the ‘Ann Patchett’ Category

belcantoBel Canto, by Ann Patchett

I loved this book, and thought it beautifully plotted and carried out, with astonishing control of language, and oddly—very funny, despite the horrifying story. But it gave me furiously to think, to find that my dear friend Rebecca was not taken with it. She explained it by saying that she was just not in the right mood when she read it, and that certainly makes sense. Any number of things could have put one off this book, and it may be the author herself simply vexed her in some way. I do not love thee, Doctor Fell! But also, there is the consideration that laughing at people undergoing a terrifying and violent situation makes us into collaborators with their oppressors. A tender hearted person might well find humor at the expense of people’s misfortunes in those circumstances ill natured.

Though it seemed to me it was their human foibles, in the midst of the horrible situation that made me smile: the president, whose infatuation with a TV soap opera makes him miss the important party at which he was to have been taken hostage; the translator who knows Swedish from watching Bergman films in college, and as a result “could only converse on the darkest of subjects” in that language.

I found the descriptions of the characters (and they are a large and varied group!)– their thoughts, their clothes, their hair, the way they moved through the world–glowing with a loving and intelligent comprehension of each soul. A lively book, gripping, intense, and full of believable humans—there is passion and pettiness, silliness and greatness—and a sense of fun, and enjoyment.


Her RoyalSpynessHer Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen.

A pleasant, frivolous, and completely forgettable little book. Sort of Bertie Wooster meets Perils of Pauline. But, fun to read! My niece gave it to me for my birthday, and I blush to say that the minute I finished it I was ready for the next one. Like eating chocolates.


BookOfMadnessThe Book of Madness and Cures, by Regina O’Melveny

Very interesting historical fiction, set in 15th century Venice. The narrator is a woman doctor, taught by her father, who sets off to search for him after his disappearance. From Venice to Padua to Leiden, and thence to Edinburgh! And ever onward, to ever more exotic climes, with many adventures along the way, and a wild poetic language to describe them with. The cold of winter in Germany and Holland is very affecting—my teeth almost chattered. The story is interlaced with quotes from ancient medical texts, telling of strange and terrible maladies, for which there is no cure, or for which the cure is as strange as the illness.

One doesn’t feel completely secure with the narrator—she is so driven, and so selfish. I am still in the middle of it, and there have already been two terrible deaths, so I have no very lively expectation of a happy ending. Still, one perseveres. I look forward to finding out what mad escapade la Dottoressa Mondini will be up to next. Will she ever return to the glittering city of her birth? I will let you know when it is made clear to me.


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Having sampled this a couple of times and decided against it, I finally picked it as my Audible book last month, and was dazzled. Excellent work, really excellent. Carefully plotted, beautifully formed. The writing is clear, masterful. I enjoyed her witty resonances—very apt quotations. Marina, sent to the hell that is the Amazonian jungle (and there are plenty of references to Dante’s hell, and to other travelers to that place) wishes briefly that this cup could be taken from her, in a direct biblical quote which I found both apposite and slightly shocking. The story is a revisit of the Orpheus and Eurydice story, and in a charming stroke, Marina is taken to see that very opera, escaping from her squalid hotel room for a glittering evening of music in the huge baroque opera house of Manaus. The plot is admirable, the characters sharp and well personified. Really, a joy to read.

Manaus Opera House


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