Thursday, 23 February 2012

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Title: Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Author: Louis de Bernieres
Pages: 534 (paperback)
Published: 1994
Published by: Vintage

It is 1941 and  Captain Antonio Corelli, a young Italian officer, is posted to the Greek island of Cephallonia as part of the occupying forces. At first he is ostracised by the locals, but as a conscientious but far from fanatical soldier, whose main aim is to have a peaceful war, he proves in time to be civilised, humorous - and a consummate musician.

When the local doctor's daughter's letters to her fiancé - and members  of the underground go unanswered, the working of the eternal triangle seems inevitable. But can this fragile love survive as a war of bestial savagery gets closer and the lines are drawn between invader and defender?

I'm not really a big fan of books about war, but between this and Birdsong by Sebatian Faulks my opinion is being changed. True, the focus isn't so much on the fighting itself as it is in Birdsong, but it is the backdrop and catalyst for all that happens. Yes, soldiers are followed, but the focus is really on Pelagia and her father and the way in which the war impacted normal people who had no way to fight back or get away.

It follows Pelagia during, and after, World War II as she lives in her little town on the Greek island of Cephalonia, and because the Greek/Italian side of the war isn't something I'm particularly familiar with I did find it quite interesting.

There is a great cast of characters - Velisarios and Lemoni were particular favourites of mine in terms of side characters - and you grow to care for Pelagia and her father Iannis as you follow their life before the war really hits them, and their struggles once it does. Various characters are followed throughout the book, all offering something in their viewpoint but some more easily read than others in my opinion. Iannis' (Pelagia's father) chapters were often concerned with his writing of his book 'A Personal History of Cephalonia' which served as a history lesson more than anything.

Rather unexpectedly, there were also a number of quite amusing characters and moments through the book - the simple shepherd who thinks a soldier parachuting in is a falling angel stands out for me in particular, as do various other parts relating to this 'angel'. Captain Corelli himself is also often amusing, and I think his character is my favourite of them all.

The writing in general seemed unnecessarily over-thought, and it often struck me that the author was using big words for the sake of it. His descriptions of the island itself, though, are wonderful and he paints a beautiful image of how it was before the war. I now really want to go there, even if by the end of the book the civilised world seems to have taken a lot of that away. There are various passages where we are faced with the reality of what it was like for soldiers fighting in this time and the sheer brutality of what they had to try to survive. Again, these parts and wonderfully written and because of this quite horrifying to read.

The last hundred pages or so are about life after the war, and whilst I think it is quite obvious to the reader what has gone on the, characters don't work it out. For this reason, I found it a little frustrating, but there were still some nice moments in there.

P.S. Nicolas Cage totally is not Captain Antonio Corelli.

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