Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Book #47

Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn't so bad--at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of "Heil Hitler" with his own "Heil Puccini", and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. It isn't long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair--despite her engagement to a young fisherman, Mandras, who has gone off to join Greek partisans. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.

This is a book of two halves; two halves for which I have different feelings for entirely. The first half seeps us in history, throws us into a war, introduces us to some heartwarming characters, and maps us out a love story that grips hold of our hearts. The end of the first half gives us an ending which, although not the happy ending one might hope for, is a 'could've been worse' ending typical of wartime. We then drag ourselves through the second half of the tale, which has a niggling feeling of being an afterthought, or a word count enhancer. The change in the writing style is stark, our beloved characters turn irksome, and it becomes more and more difficult to read in the same way. Then we find the ending to be pretty pathetic, and feel hard done by. 

I loved the setting; it was so ridiculously European. Every mention of the beautiful island, the glorious weather, their goats and terracotta pots had me longing to get away from the murky climate I'm in at the moment. The characters lived an enviable, spartan lifestyle, in a close-knit community. Bernières described wonderfully neighbourly acts of kindness, cultural events and oddities, and small town gossip. Until the Italians arrived, it seemed an incredible place to live.

The book initially takes some getting used to, with Bernières changing scene or narrator every chapter or so. It's jarring, but begins to make sense the longer you persevere, with the stories interlinking beautifully together, and our characters building up. Until, of course, the second half.

I'm absolutely not the kind of girl who appreciates a love story. I like a story where things happen other than a relationship, and I'm quite partial to a relationship stemming from some kind of mutual circumstance. I enjoyed reading about the war and its consequences, but once the war was over all that was left to resolve was the lost love. It's disappointing when you can predict the ending of a story just because you've read so many stories in the past. A book shouldn't be like that; it's an incredible waste.

A number of people have told me this is their favourite book. Many have said it's wonderful. I would like you all to tell me why. I truly feel if the book had ended where I believe it should have ended, this would be a much bigger masterpiece, but based on the opinions of others, I expected a lot more. When I will I learn?

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