Saturday was the birthday of Ann Patchett, the author of Bel Canto, one of my top 5 books of all time. (There may be six in the top five, depending on the day). The book is about a hostage situation in an unidentified South American country in which all of the members of an elegant dinner party, including a famous opera singer who has been hired to perform, are held captive for 4 months inside the host’s house. Bel Canto explores the relationship between the captors and their hostages, humanizing the criminals and imagining how these groups might find common ground — even love.
Bel Canto is perfectly paced, with the plot developing and unfolding naturally and evenly, like a precisely peeled onion . I read it a few years ago, but remember telling to my husband that it was the most perfectly written novel I had ever read. I have a minor quibble with the ending — there is one plot development that seemed a bit forced — but it’s a small complaint that takes the book from an A+ to an A in my estimation.
But don’t take my word for it.
The New York Times (subscription may be required) calls the book "elegantly alluring," and notes, "one of the delightful things about the way Bel Canto unfolds is the way Ann Patchett uses the ordeal of entrapment to locate unexpected resources in her characters, like [the singer’s] new leadership potential. Another surprising quality to emerge, in a book that works both as a paean to art and beauty and a subtly sly comedy of manners, is the flair that the host shows for running the household, once he realizes that being taken hostage has ruined his political career."
The San Francisco Chronicle calls it "blissfully romantic."
It won the 2002 Orange Award for fiction as well as the Pen/Faulkner award.
Happy Birthday, Ann Patchett!