L is for Louis de Bernieres

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I’ve been trying to read “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernieres, for years. I remember about ten years ago, when everyone was reading it. On their holidays, on the bus, train, in the car and so on. So, I tried. I got as far as the old man with the pea in his ear, and then stopped. For people who’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

The tone is stuffy, smug, pretentious. There are numerous changes in narrator which leads to confusion for the reader and a lack of involvement which makes it hard to carry on. The Challenge gave me the perfect reason to read it – I wasn’t allowed to stop! So I picked up my battered copy, which I think has been read by about a million people and travelled round the globe at least a couple of times, and began again at Dr Iannis and the old man with the pea n his ear.

De Bernieres manages to conjure up the Greek island through his prose. He never points things out and the character image is built up through offhand comments and sense you get, rather than a head to toe description. I suppose this is the mark of a good writer, strictly speaking. However, the effect was slightly ruined for me by my imagination being over-ruled by Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, who played Corelli and Pelagia in the film. Incidentally, I’ve never seen it but have heard it’s pretty awful and not at all faithful to the book.

I struggled through the first hundred pages, which took me about a week. Eventually though, I got the rhythm and got more involved with the characters as the story began to unfold. I didn’t particularly like any of them – although their voices differed they all had an underlying tone of superiority that I found offputting. My favourite character was the pet pine marten, to be honest.

On Sunday I managed to read the remaining four hundred pages. It took a lot and I nearly fell asleep in the middle, but I did it. Only to find that it wasn’t worth it. It’s a great big let down. It wasn’t that I wanted a happy ending, and the fact that the story’s based around the occupation of Greece by the Italians and Germans, I definitely wasn’t expected sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, but a bit of a reward would have been nice. For those of you who’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean. For those of you who haven’t, you can read it if you like but expect a massive anti-climax. Huge.

It did make me want to visit Cephalonia though.

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