Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was recommended to me by my Mum after she read it in her “book” club. I say “book” club because I believe it’s more of a wine-and-gossip-with-a-side-of-books club – which sounds like my kind of club to be honest. Anyway, this was one that they probably discussed for a few minutes before cracking into the real chat and she loved it.

I love reading books that have a film version so I can watch it afterwards but having seen the Rotten Tomatoes score on this one I’m not sure I can afford to give up two hours of my life for it. Also I was extremely disappointed to see that Nicolas Cage plays Captain Corelli. I’m not sure what it is about him but I can’t stand the man. He is like a soggy towel personified. Cage and Kevin Bacon are two actors that instantly ruin films for me.

Nicolas Cage in Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Nicolas Cage in the film version of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

But I digress. Let’s talk about the book shall we? This is a good solid read and I say solid because the story is truly epic. It takes place over a lifetime and is a snapshot of history, documenting the horrors of World War II from the perspective of Cephalonia – a small island in Greece. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a historical drama though because it is very much a love story.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is certainly a love story with a difference though. For one, it doesn’t introduce the actual love interest for a looooong time. Ok well it felt like a long time anyway, the start of the book was a bit of a trudge for me. I don’t want to give anything away about the story because that’s what I hate about some reviews – why would I read something when someone’s already spoilt the best bits? I will say however, that the ending is bittersweet. I think that’s why I like it. Despite being set in a land far far away in a time long gone that I could never really relate to, I found the love between Corelli and Pelagia at once beautiful but also frustrating which made it utterly real.

The language the author Louis de Bernières uses is masterful and I recognised a couple of passages from when I was researching readings for our wedding. Here is the most famous one that I adore and sums up his romantic yet realist writer’s voice – 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 root was so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

I also enjoy how de Bernières skilfully injects elements of humour amidst truly grim subject material. The character of Dr Iannis is hilarious and Corelli himself is a ray of sunshine (how Nicolas Cage could possibly manage this in the film is beyond me). It’s also great to have a strong female protagonist in Pelagia. In fact the strongest characters in the book are the women and a gay man named Carlo who is the hero of the story really.

So should you bother? Absolutely yes, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin will make you think about the pain, beauty and frustrations of love and ultimately how it shapes your own life story.

Book Review: Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Good bits
  • Heart wrenching, powerful story
  • Endearing and funny characters
  • Beautiful writing with plenty of words of wisdom
Not so good bits
  • Bit of a slog to get into
  • Pretty depressing in parts
4.0An epic love story

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