Bel Canto Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was supposed to be an important gathering, a Japanese businessman has joined the great and the good in the vice-presidents home in a small Latin American country to be persuaded to invest in a factory in their country. The president has called off, preferring to sit at home and watch his favourite soap opera. Mr Hosokawa was wary about attending, but when he heard that his favourite opera singer, Roxanne Coss, had been booked to sing to the private gathering, he decided to attend.

After she had finished singing, there is a pause and the house is suddenly full of men with guns, who were there to kidnap the president. When they find he is missing there are incredulous and angry, almost not believing them and thinking he is hidden amongst the people there. As the tension mounts, a hostage dies and the partygoers realise that it is not a game anymore. A day or so later there is a knock at the front door, the soldiers open it and on the other side is a Swiss guy who was supposed to be on holiday, is there on behalf of the Red Cross to begin negotiations. A list of demands is drawn up and he is sent off with them.

The government is not wanting to negotiate unless some of the hostages are released, and the women and children a few others are let out, but they soldiers decide to keep the opera singer, and life in the house settles down into an awkward routine. A chess board if found and Coss decides that she needs to practice her singing to keep her voice in check and it turns out one of the guests is an accomplished piano player; slowly the authority of the Generals and their soldiers begins to ebb away.

This is an interesting take on the usual action-packed hostage trope, Patchett has let the sluggish responses of a government feed into the characters in the home as people on opposite sides start to talk, develop relationships and try to act like this is actually normal life. It isn’t but even then, love manages to flourish even under the most trying of circumstances. If I had one quibble, I thought that the epilogue was a little unnecessary as a way of tying things up, otherwise a really enjoyable read.

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