I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin back in 1999 when I was in my first year university (back in the days when my reading habits were more voracious) My copy was actually given to me through a friend. I started it at 5:00am (at least some of my reading habits didn’t change!) and finished it at 2:00am. Yes it was the first time I had done something like that and no book as kept me transfixed like that. Anyway I never really bothered to return the book (which is very rare for me to do) and several years later my friend died of cancer so I guess I have a bit of her legacy.
Captain Correlli’s is a deceptively intricate novel which takes place on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the second World War and time progresses until the present day (or in this case 90’s Greece). It’s focuses upon Pelegia, the daughter of a physician , Captain Corelli , who makes an appearance when the Italians take over the island and Carlo, a homosexual Italian soldier, who ultimately turns out to be the novel’s plot twist. (don’t worry I’m not spoiling anything). Not to mention the charming cast of villagers who populate the novel.
Together these characters fall in and out of love , die and fight as the island is practically wiped out by the German occupation (they massacred the Italians) of the island. Ultimately it is love that lives on and leaves it’s traces til the very end.
Despite its relative thickness, de Bernieres does not beat around the bush once. Every single detail from a pea pulled out of an ear to the mandolin of the title recurs and shows up throughout the book’s progress. There are bits which contain genuine slapstick and will make you laugh out loud (the ‘joke war’ is particularly good) and there are bits which are genuinely disturbing and horrifying. It’s a very well-rounded novel and although there are shades of Garcia Marquez it never gets bogged down with the extra details.
In 2007 i got to meet Louis de Bernieres and I have to admit I found him a bit off-putting, even a bit of a braggart and a snob at times. It goes to show that one must exercise caution when meeting a literary hero.