The Big Read

No. 19 – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières Read 25/11/14

All I knew about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was what I had learnt whilst studying AS Film Studies, the film had been a complete flop and everyone was really surprised because the book had been so incredibly popular. I never watched the film and knew nothing other than what was on the back cover when I started reading and so I shall share with you my first thoughts upon starting this book.

Where was Captain Corelli?

Seriously, I hate that. This story is called Captain Corelli’s Mandolin but it should be titled Pelagia’s Story or something similar because the story is by no means Corelli’s. The plot follows Pelagia and her father, a doctor, who live on the Greek island of Cephalonia. Pelagia wants to become a doctor like her father, and is engaged to a local fisherman Mandras but when the Second World War breaks out he leaves to fight the Italians. Halfway through the novel the eccentric Captain Corelli swans in with his most prized possession; his mandolin. It soon becomes obvious that Pelagia and Corelli will have to question their allegiances as they fall in love.

So sounds like a pretty standard romance? Nope. Make no mistakes about it this book is about war. It is a very strange mix because 2 opposing stories are being told. There is the light hearted almost foolish romance between Pelagia and Corelli and then there is this hard hitting, thought provoking, shocking even tale about the occupation of Cephalonia and Greece’s position in WW2. It makes for a strange read because it is a bit bottom heavy. All of a sudden out of nowhere comes this weight of emotion almost like a Shakespearian tragedy and it is hard to believe that a hundred pages before there were jokes about piles. Somehow this works. I think it is because it mirrors the way the residents of Cephalonia must have felt. I learnt a lot about Greece’s role in WW2 from this book and the real human story is incredibly moving and I am glad that it is being told through this book.

One of my favourite parts of this book is Carlo’s sub-plot. Carlo joins the Italian army so that he may nobly put his homosexuality to good use by falling in love with a fellow soldier and then dying to save him. It is described as though Carlo intend it to be an extended form a suicide but Carlo’s story of courage and bravery is so moving and the love he describes was much more interesting to read about than the forbidden love between Pelagia and Corelli.

I don’t normally enjoy romances but there was enough other stuff happening in this book that I really didn’t mind. This book would have been interesting enough without the romance if I am honest but then again I know that’s what appeals to most people. What I must mention about this book is the tone. It is wonderfully written and I can’t identify what it is. It feels rich and warm and conjures up these wonderful images of sun drench provincial scenes. It is also touching, heart warming and makes you glad to be alive.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: historical fiction lovers.

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