Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Corelli's Mandolin" by Louis de Bernières

This is a book I've hauled around with me for a while now- I bought it when I lived in Montana, and then it languished on my shelf until I packed it for moving. I was a bit excited for this one because it takes place on an island, making it perfect for the TTWIB (Travel the World in Books) monthly theme (islands). As I've never, to my knowledge, read a novel set in Greece, I was excited to learn more about that region of the world.

There seem to be two camps of WWII fiction- those who loathe it, and those who adore it. I generally like it, but I think my only real issue with this book is it can't decide what it wants to be. The first half of it is the most eloquent imagery I've read in a long time, while the second half devolves into plot twisting (which I found unnecessary, given the first half was a slow and steady read). Once past the first chapters, it's hard to stop reading, but near the end I almost wanted to stop (to preserve the good parts of the story, in my eyes).

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn’t so bad—at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of “Heil Hitler” with his own “Heil Puccini”, and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. It isn't long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair--despite her engagement to a young fisherman, Mandras, who has gone off to join Greek partisans. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.
'British author Louis de Bernières is well known for his forays into magical realism in such novels as The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. Here he keeps it to a minimum, though certainly the secondary characters with whom he populates his island—the drunken priest, the strongman, the fisherman who swims with dolphins—would be at home in any of his wildly imaginative Latin American fictions. Instead, de Bernières seems interested in dissecting the nature of history as he tells his ever-darkening tale from many different perspectives. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin works on many levels, as a love story, a war story and a deconstruction of just what determines the facts that make it into the history books.'

There is a lot going on in this book, but as long as you remember the main characters' names, it's not hard to puzzle out. The characters I liked the most were (by far) Pelagia and her father, along with their pet pine marten. The rest of the characters were interesting, but not given enough backstory to give them depth, though Carlos is a slight exception in that aspect. Although I'd hoped to learn more about Cephalonia and Greece as a whole, much of the information and backstory given had to do with WWII.

As I mentioned, the ending of this book was painful to me- not only has it been done before, it just simply didn't match the beautiful beginning of this book. For that reason, this book was hard to rate- it does have some worthy stories to tell, but they are given an ending more suitable for some dramatic contemporary fiction- not historical fiction with light romance. Another reviewer had mentioned a similar dislike of the second half of the book, so I suppose it isn't just me.

Corelli's Mandolin is a beautiful historical with another book's ending. As much as I've pondered a reason why the book would end so weirdly, I just can't figure out why the characters would end up as they did, if it were actually meant to be their story. The historical cohesion of the story suffered as well. I only recommend this one if you have a pointed interest in anything set in Cephalonia, because as a story this book doesn't make much sense to me.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a beautiful book with a mismatched ending.

Content: Ages 18+ for sexual content, war crimes (violence- lots of violence), and an unsatisfactory ending.

Page Count: 437 pages


  1. I have never read this book nor seen the movie. I wanted to, but it slipped my mind. I fall into the "love" camp when it comes to WWII stories. I'm sorry the ending didn't live up to the first part of the novel.

    1. I think every story is different for me- with this one's ending, it's difficult to recommend it just because of the beginning. I've only had a few books that I liked the beginning of but not the ending.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Wendy!
      ~Litha Nelle

  2. Interesting. The movie must have taken liberties with the storyline if my memory is correct. You should watch the movie and compare it to the book. I would love to see what you think. :)

    1. I think in general, most storylines taken from books are altered somewhat for the film version. If I can find it to rent from somewhere, I will definitely check it out- I should mention the summary for this book doesn't mention some other main plot points.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, La La!
      ~Litha Nelle


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