Title: Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
To read this book is to fall in love with it.
“What she prayed for was nothing. She prayed that God would look on them and see the beauty of their existence and leave them alone.” 156
“…there could be as much virtue in letting go of what you knew as there had ever been in gathering new information. He worked as hard at forgetting as he had ever worked to learn.” 304
Like the characters in the book, I found myself believing that there was no world outside “Bel Canto.” It has been a long time since I was so fully immersed in a novel, unaware even of the desk I was sitting at or the book I was holding in my hands. When I was forced to stop reading I felt what I imagine is the trauma of birth. I emerged, gasping and disoriented wanting to return to the cocoon that “Bel Canto” had woven around me. Though there is not much in the way of plot, it’s not a slow read. The language is so beautiful that it literally pulled on my heartstrings.
“A pain exploded up high in her chest and spit her out of this terrible world.” 312
Often, in fantasy novels, magic is assisted by words. Sometimes the words are only needed to strengthen or invoke the spell, other times the very words themselves carry the power of the magic. To utter one syllable incorrectly would be to change the nature of the spell. I’m not sure which is more likely, but I would not be surprised if the latter were true. There are words I don’t often use in writing: love, beauty, miracle. They seem to carry a power of their own – to use them would be to give weight to something that perhaps does not deserve it. These words mean more than their definitions; they carry other feelings and associations and so I am careful when I use them. However, these words appear frequently in “Bel Canto.” In each instance I would pause, deciding whether of not the thing they were discussing merited the use of such a powerful word. It always did. It never seemed to be an exaggeration, and never would another word suffice.
Lately I have found those words – beauty, love, miracle – creeping into my thoughts and speech more often. It’s not because I’ve become lax in my parameters for using them, but because lately there seems to be more in my life to feel strongly about. I think that the better you know something the more you find it to be more lovely, more beautiful, more of a miracle. I am continually shocked by the surprises that the people and things in my life hold for me. Even those that I thought I knew well, that I thought I already loved to the point of bursting, manage to become more dear. It’s unreal, exhilarating.
“While he had lost every freedom he was accustomed to, a new smaller set of freedoms began to raise a dim light within him: the liberty to think obsessively, the right to remember in detail.” 121
They tell you at orientation that you learn less about Japan, about the people around you, than you do about yourself. For me, at least, this has been true. The isolation – living by myself, the language barrier – forces me inward. As an already highly introverted person, this itself was a shock. How could someone who already spends so much time in their own head be drawn further inward? At times, when I get lonely, it makes me wallow. And then there are other times when I fiercely guard this freedom, this permission, to be alone with myself. In my solitude I am allowed to examine and explore. To look at myself longer and more intently than I normally would. To see myself, my motives and intentions and feelings more clearly. And then something else unexpected happens – in all this time that I was thinking about myself, my place in this world and my relationship to the people and things around me – I begin to see “the other” more clearly too.
Now my whole world is lovely, beautiful, a miracle.
“…but it was a miraculous thing to be able to watch the person you love undetected, as if you were a stranger seeing them for the first time.” 272
*2/7 (books read/books I resolved to read)*