Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Fifteen - Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Part Three

Louis de Bernieres
From Literary Norfolk

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has moments of clarity and perspective, much history about the island of Cellaphonia, and an incredibly unsatisfying ending. It isn’t even an ending as much as a cessation of writing. There is no resolution of conflict; in this case I expected the denouement to be sad yet sensible. But it wasn’t truly there at all. It is as though the author taught all he set out to teach about Cellaphonia, its history and its place in the world during the 20th century and he was through. What happened to the history being written by Dr. Iannis and later by Pelagia? I kept waiting for it to reappear but it did not. Apparently it was simply a tool for de Bernieres to provide his own history of the island. By the way, according to this site it’s pronounced keff-a-lonia.  

I enjoyed the book and I liked Pelagia well enough, loved Dr. Iannis, and didn’t trust Corelli from the start. I also love Carlo and Drosoula, Mandras’ mom, and could have done with more Alekos the goat herder. I love historical fiction but – is it just me or aren’t the characters the most important thing? I know the story needs to make sense in terms of plot and setting and that action is what page-turners are made of, but if I’m not invested in the characters why do I care what happens to them? I never felt that I understood either Pelagia or Corelli. Pelagia, young and immature at the beginning of the novel, never seems to mature. She accepts inevitabilities but there is not enough evidence of her thought process. We get her choices with none of the decision making process, only the end result. How can I understand her? It feels unfinished. The love story, especially, is fragmented. 

One thing de Bernieres masters is nice monologues. Here is one by Dr. Iannis –

Love is a kind of dementia with very precise and oft-repeated clinical symptoms. You blush in each other’s presence, you both hover in places where you expect the other to pass, you are both a little tongue-tied, you both laugh inexplicably and too long, you become quite nauseatingly girlish, and he becomes quite ridiculously gallant. You have also grown a little stupid.

If you’re a romantic and you’re not so much liking Dr. Iannis, wait! There is more.

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part…

Do you see why I love Dr. Iannis? He’s mature enough to understand both the nature of love and its consequences. In this same narration he goes on to explain that he experienced this love with his wife.

There are other moments of brilliance, particularly in the description of the music. De Bernieres must play the mandolin because he’s so familiar with it, and he does a good job describing things like tremolo to someone who knows little about it. For example, “He heard the melody rise and swell, breaking into a torrent of bright tremolo more limpid than the song of thrushes, more pellucid than the sky.” Ah, I see from this site that he does play the mandolin, and “He works from a shed in his garden.” I rather like that about him.

The despair of a WWII novel is there, but the years after the war are touched upon so briefly that the changes in Pelagia do not make sense to me. Is it because I’m female and Pelagia, a female, is written by a male? Is the reverse also true? Is it possible for a male to write a female protagonist who women love and can relate to completely, and vice versa? Help me out here, people. I’m not talking romance novels or even Jane Austen. Her purpose was to write women who, after a bit of trouble, get happy endings. Her heroes are meant to appeal to women and behave bigger than life. (Actually her purpose was to make a living, hence the reason she wrote what she did. But I digress.) Are all male protagonists written by women better than life? Are all female protagonists written by men the same? I love Dr. Iannis, the father figure, but not Captain Corelli, the “romantic” lead. Dude, I’m not looking for a father figure, but maybe the charm of Iannis as a person is that he’s both loving and sensible. I suppose that’s why I like Drosoula, as well. I suppose the characters that appeal to us have more to do with us than with the characters, and I suppose there was a time in my life when I may have been on Team Corelli. (It’s difficult to imagine, though. I believe I was at least partially sensible even in my youth, but I may be employing selective memory.)

Enough of my personal angst. The book includes a quote from Goethe’s Faust that is quite stirring. Here it is in German and in English –
Meine Ruh' ist hin,
Mein Herz ist schwer,
Ich finde sie nimmer
Und nimmermehr.

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never more.

Schubert set Faust to music and here’s a video of this song on You Tube. The music is magical and the refrain especially haunting. It is truly beautiful even though I don’t understand German. Here are the German and English lyrics to the entire song if you’re interested.

Finally, an image of Cephallonian goats, just for fun.

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