Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bel Canto encore!

I can’t wait any longer to say how much I enjoyed this book – and now I find Emily has got there first (between me writing this yesterday and posting today) – but I will not let that influence me.

How does Patchett make it a real page turner and yet embody the ennui of the place? (Wm Golding does similarly with his travel book Egyptian Journal, which begins with a statement of how boring the lack of view is from the boat but which is nonetheless gripping). The tension when Carmen is leading Hosokawa through the sleeping house is as unbearable as any I’ve read. And there are some beautiful touches – I’m thinking of Gen’s first reactions to his feelings for Carmen (when he thought she was a boy) – as we all know, you don’t need ripped bodices for high erotica. Or the view from the floor as all were forced to lie down. I thought the haves/have nots theme was also done without labouring the points – we see what the world is losing (in Carmen’s linguistic ability; Cesar’s singing; Ishmael’s chess etc) because these kids lives are so circumscribed by poverty. Carmen notes that one of the baths is larger than some of the canoes she’s travelled in… There were too, I thought, some echoes of GG Marquez/ A Chronicle of Death Foretold where everyone succeeds in pretending that the inevitable will not happen, which is how many of us handle death.

So is there a weak point: yes, I didn’t need, like, want the epilogue. Patchett had handled the ending she’d told us was coming so well – sudden , bleak and inevitable (and how did she manage to tell us at the start that the terrorists would all die, yet maintain tension and interest?) Was it supposed to be an encore? Encores in performances don’t work/aren’t used when the finale is itself untrumpable and similarly here. Can someone who knows about music composition explain this in terms of say Opera plots? I sensed that the structure of the book mirrored something of the sort (overture, adagio etc) without being able to follow it through. So Encore in the sense that I shall now find and read all her other books, because this is masterly (or the gender neutral equivalent) storytelling. But the epilogue as encore, no, please no.

Emily: great story telling but not great literature I think. Does redemption have to happen in the ending? Can it not be that the parochial world views of the characters were altered by the simple fact of spending time with others? As Mullan says, it is stretching belief that all those internationalists should be such poor linguists, but I think she’s probably right about the blinkered nature of their worldviews and interests. Don’t you think they all left the house less ready to dismiss the cries for equality and justice of the oppressed? Is that not redemptive? Indeed, is it not one of the best outcomes that the generals could have hoped for?