Monday, February 11, 2013

Rereading Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Dr Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse. He had attended a surprisingly easy calving, lanced one abscess, extracted a molar, dosed one lady of easy virtue with Salvarsan, performed an unpleasant but spectacularly fruitful enema, and had produced a miracle by a feat of medical prestidigitation.

Corelli's Mandolin was a book I reviewed very early on in this blog's life. Here is what I said in my first review of it: "I loved the prose style of this historical novel. It's witty and kind of hard to describe, but very distinctive. If you read it, you'll see. I guess it sort of reads like a folktale or a epic quest or something. And the way the book is formatted- and the font is very good. It has "love and death, heroism and skullduggery, humor and pathos, and art and religion... a good old-fashioned novel." (Washington Post.) Corelli's Mandolin tells of the Greek island of Cephallonia during World War II. In the midst of the occupation are Pelagia, a beautiful young woman, and two suitors: Mandras, a fisherman of the island, and the charming, funny, clever mandolin-playing Captain Corelli, an officer of the Italian garrison. This was a very exciting book, and I really raced through it, wanting to get the end and find what ultimately happened. But it was deeply sad. So many characters that you grow to love throughout the book die during the various occupations of the war, and also many animals that are characterized and then killed. The ending was also kind of unsatisfying; I felt so frustrated with it. But I did like the characters. They felt so real. 4 stars." Despite its shortness, and a few ungrammatical sentences, it's actually not a bad little review. 

But I really loved Corelli's Mandolin more than four stars. More like 4.5, or maybe even 5. Though I will admit that Louis de Bernieres can be a bit verbose at times. Too much so, perhaps. But at times, its verbosity can be slyly amusing, and even funny. Some of the writing has a sort of snide tone that fits the novel well.

I really loved the animals in the book, the goat and the pine marten called Psispina, which apparently means cat in Greek. I also loved Lemoni, the little girl who discovered the marten as well. And I love, love, loved Captain Corelli himself. He's handsome, charming, witty, and (nearly) laugh-out-loud hilarious. He also plays the mandolin, as you might have guessed, and very well too. More than well, amazingly. Some of the descriptions of what he gets up to in the army are so, so, so funny, as well as when he first arrives at Pelagia's house. Although I don't agree with his opinion of Wagner; yes, Wagner was an anti-Semite and an awful person by all accounts, but his music is great, despite its later Nazi associations. I also think Corelli  has synesthesia; at one point he doesn't like a certain tune because "it was a particularly vile shade of puce." Be warned though, he does not appear until page 157. So don't despair if there is no sign of Corelli; he will soon be there. The fact that you love Corelli so much is what makes the book's ending so heartbreaking. Pelagia is a good character too. 

But the book isn't just the story of Cephallonia. There are other narratives within the book, from a first person narrative by Mussolini himself (once), to a homosexual Italian soldier's account of the war (many times). Though it's a bit confusing to adjust to the different stories at first, you get used to it, and it ends up making a much better novel overall. I would recommend Corelli's Mandolin if you're looking for an interesting and challenging read.

Read Corelli's Mandolin:
  • if you like historical fiction (World War II)
  • if you like books set in Greece
435 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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