So over the past two weeks I read Louis de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I’d heard about it because of the movie and the comments that it wasn’t as good as the book – something quite common. Now I haven’t seen the movie but it’s not up to par with the novel, I don’t want to see it.
You might think that the title gives you an idea of who the hero is, but in fact Corelli doesn’t come into the story before page 180 or something. Essentially the novel tells the story of Cephalonia’s occupation by the Italians during WWII; the story of the war and occupation is narrated from multiple points of view, multiple narrator’s perspectives. In the end, it is the story of Pelagia, overeducated daughter of the local Doctor, who falls in love first with an illiterate handsome young man from her island and then proceeds to fall in love with a Captain from the occupying force, who proves to be an artist unwilling to fight a war he thinks unfair for values he doesn’t believe in.
There’s a lot that is interesting in the story: the reality of war for soldiers, its physical and emotional impact, the clash of ideologies and how they sometimes amount to nothing when it comes down to friendship, the indoctrination of those who are easily influenced because life or war has left them adrift and in search of something to hold on to, the analysis of women’s position in society and in a war society.
Unfortunately it’s scattered all over the novel in tiny morsels, as if the author knew that otherwise the storyline was thin and needed reinforcement from one area or other. Because really Captain Corelli and his mandolin are drab and bland in the end. The war hero who’s fighting a war he doesn’t believe in and falls in love with a woman he’s supposed to consider inferior because of her race isn’t that interesting. And the mandolin seems merely a prop. Somehow I was imagining it would hold a real place in the book: it doesn’t truly.
In the end, despite its many worthy points on war, on PTSD, on betrayal, the book was disappointing and boring to me. The fact that it spans less than a decade in 450 pages and 50 years in less than 80 pages wasn’t conducive to enjoying the story. At least it wasn’t to me.
So I wasn’t impressed, although it has made me curious about Cephalonia’s history; I’ve always been a mythology lover and with it being referenced as Odysseus’ Ithaca, I was bound to search a bit more.
It’s not a dreadful book but I don’t know that I would put it on the 100 books to read before you die list; sure it may look at war in a different way and shed a different light on the lives destroyed or affected by it. But in the end it’s a love story where the girl is left hanging and accepting her fate of being a perpetual virgin because her lover didn’t trust her well enough to come back to her and ask the one question he should.
Did you read the book?
What did you think of it?