I will tell you right now: SPOILERS ahead. If you do not want to know how this book ends, you might not want to read this post. That is how I ruined Battlestar Galactica for myself (although, what really ruined BSG for me, I think, was BSG–that just was not my show).
All aboard who are coming aboard? Okay. Correlli’s Mandolin was my October book club book, and since I only managed to read about fifty pages of my September book club book (Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose–sorry, Wallace, it’s not me, it’s you), I was pretty motivated to finish this one.
And I am mostly glad I did. I was not crazy about this book, but it was at least compelling, in the same way Wuthering Heights was compelling but not enjoyable for me (I am an Austen girl, not a Bronte girl). And there were funny parts, though it was not the romp I had been led to expect. (Pro tip: books about WWII are seldom romps.)
This novel, set mostly on the Greek island of Cephallonia during the Italian and German occupation, focuses on the strong-willed Pelagia, her wise father Dr. Iannis, her first betrohed, Mandras the fisherman, and two noble Italians, Carlo and the eponymous Captain Corelli. It is mythical, historical, tragic, romantic. And infuriating.
Not a spoiler: Corelli and Pelagia fall in love. Corelli has to sneak off the island when the Germans take over, but he promises to return when the war is over.
Spoiler: The war ends. Pelagia adopts an infant left on her doorstep. One day, she is playing in the yard with the baby, and she sees a figure who looks just like Corelli in the distance. She calls to him and runs after him, but he has disappeared. This happens every year for ten years.
Right away, I thought, “Oh no! Corelli saw Pelagia with a baby and assumes it’s her baby! He is heartbroken but noble, so he is leaving her in peace with her baby and husband, even though there is no evidence of a husband anywhere!” But then I thought, “No. That is absurd. That is not how people behave. He must be Corelli’s ghost.” (The fact that Corelli’s ghost might plausibly appear gives you an idea of what kind of book this is, and I do not mean that negatively.)
Big Spoiler: Many years go by. Pelagia is old. Suddenly, Corelli returns, and it turns out that my first terrible suspicion was right. Correli did come back. He did think Pelagia was married. He did nobly, bitterly leave her alone for decades. But now he’s back, and after an all-too-brief resistance on Pelagia’s part, they set about recreating the innocent love affair they had fifty years earlier. The end.
As you can probably tell, I hated this development. I do not demand absolute realism from fiction, but I do demand . . . well, more realism than this. I know this kind of Tragic Misunderstanding is a common trope of literature and film (see An Affair to Remember, for example), but I simply cannot stand it.
Even if I could accept that a person would make the assumption that his beloved is married and then decide to leave without speaking to her or asking anyone in the village about it or anything (and clearly, I cannot accept this), I cannot find it satisfying. Because really, we want the people who love us to fight for us, right? To at least do more research before they take their noble leave. Ask around, Corelli. Or, you know, watch for more than two minutes.
Next time: I make my book report on One Day, the book that is now an Anne Hathaway movie. Guess what? I hated that ending, too!