Book Report: Corelli’s Mandolin

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).

Corelli's Mandolin: A Novel

image via

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.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Nicolas Cage as Antonio Corelli in Universal's Captain Corelli's Mandolin - 2001

Nicolas Cage plays Corelli in the movie version. That is probably infuriating, too.

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!  



Filed under Book Report

6 responses to “Book Report: Corelli’s Mandolin

  1. Jenny Olsztynski

    I read this book about 10 years ago and had the same reaction.


  2. David Navarre

    Thank you for giving the spoilers. I would have gotten around to either buying the book for my wife or renting the movie and in either case, been disappointed. What moron wouldn’t bother to check if she was married and not watching someone else’s child? Or not check if it was HIS child? That’s just stupid. Thank you for saving me from that!


  3. Pingback: Ask, Seek, Find | Never Done It That Way Before

  4. Michael

    I know that I am few years behind the curve in responding to your blogpost about the end of “Corelli’s Mandolin,” but having just finished the book in an exasperated and utterly frustrated state I just need to search out for others who finished the book feeling the way that I did. And, in my disappointment with the author’s choice on how to leave the two lovers I felt inclined to post a review of the book on So, I thought that I would share this with you, and then I can let this go and pick up my next read 🙂

    And, thank you for the blogpost.

    Here’s my review, entitled, “But why the ending?”

    Corelli’s Mandolin is a beautifully crafted novel that intertwines some of the grittiest details of war that I have ever read with engaging portraits of village life in the wartime and the blossoming of love. But, after investing so much character and life into the figures of Antonio and Pelagia, it just rings hollow for the novel to end in the way that it does. I understand that the perception of what what he believe to be true would cause confusion in the captain upon his return to the island after the war, but given the way that his personality and the character of the town were conveyed, it is inconceivable that he would not at least ask about the status of the woman that he yearned for. And then, to have him return to Cephalonia each year for a decade and not realize what was going on just seems unfathomable, and the construction of an author who was intent on abandoning the hearts of the characters that he so lovingly and realistically portrayed. The characters deserve better, especially Pelagia. And, although consumated and domesticated love would have changed the author’s intent to tell the story of the modernization of the island, he certainly could have accomplished this with the characters being together.

    The frustrating part for me, as the reader, is that after 4/5ths of the novel, I was ready to declare this novel one of the best that I have ever read, but then the last fifth just deflated me and betrayed the characters that the author so invested me in. So, in the course of 80 pages, the novel went from being one of the most satisfying historical novels that I have ever encountered to being one of the most disappointing.

    But, I must admit, that the ride before the fall is thrilling. But, again, why the ending, Louis de Bernieres?


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