Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

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The Independent Culture

In her previous novel The Magician's Assistant, Ann Pattchet's quirky LA heroine notes that "People long to be amazed... Once you amaze them you own them." The no less conventional protagonist of this, her fourth novel, a Japanese CEO called Mr Hosokawa, knows what it's like to be under a spell. Since being given a recording of the operatic diva Roxane Coss, he has been in love ­ captivated by the American soprano's beauty and fearless voice.

Hosokawa's obsession is set to change his life. At the opening of the novel he finds himself the guest of an obscure South American President, and, along with other business men and diplomats, accepts an invitation to hear Roxane sing at a private party. During the concert a band of terrorists takes the guests hostage.

Loosely based on the 1996 siege of the Japanese embassy in Peru, the novel isn't so much about anarchy as how this crowd of fussy honoraries adjust to their new housebound situation. Patchett's view of the human condition is generous. Over the course of the siege her captives' behaviour ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous ­ two couples fall in love, Roxane sings and the vice-president takes up vacuuming: "Everyone was very fond of Ruben. Everyone had forgotten that he was the vice president." Siege mentality at its most liberating.