Welcome to… (drum roll)…Friday Faves – in which, each week, someone bookish will share one of their all-time favourite books. And to get the ball rolling, this week, that someone is me. And the book I have chosen is Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel Bel Canto.
Sigh! I can’t even begin to describe this book without sighing, both over the pathos of the story and the sheer beauty of the writing. Bel Canto tells the tale of the unlikely relationships which develop between a group of terrorists from an unnamed South American country, and their hostages, which include a powerful Japanese businessman and a world-famous American opera singer.
Reading it for the first time, I found myself at the end of my lunchbreak, with only a few pages to go. I was so utterly gripped, there was no question of waiting til the end of the working day to finish it. So I went back to the office and took the book into the toilets. What followed was five minutes of reading, followed by ten minutes of borderline-audible sobbing, followed by five minutes of patting at my face with a wet paper towel.
In prose that is somehow simultaneously exquisite yet restrained, Patchett creates the most amazing cast of characters, rich and complex and fully-realised. I am not exaggerating when I say that I loved them. When the story ended, and they were gone from my life, I felt bereft in a way I have never been made to feel before or since by a novel.
I first read Bel Canto in 2003 and have re-read it almost every year since. I want everyone in the whole wide world to have the pleasure of reading this funny, surprising, compassionate and heartbreaking novel.