9 February 2018

You have to read this… // A review of Louis de Bernieres' “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin- Louis de Berniéres (Book ...
I have realised recently that every time I read a book I am under the impression that it might be the greatest book I have ever read. In hindsight I often discover that in fact it was merely mediocre and had just grabbed my attention for a little while as I read it. This book is definitely an exception.

When I first picked up the book upon the recommendation of my mum I had my doubts; the first few chapters consist of what seems like babbling nonsense about the history of some island in Greece, which at this point seems quite irrelevant – I just wanted to read the story! However, as I read I began to realise that Louis de Bernieres is a genius.  In fact, the seemingly irrelevant subplots of Father Arsenios, Alekos the Shepherd and the strong Velisarios in the first few chapters slowly combine together to form a solid context to the story of Dr Iannis and his daughter Pelagia.

The book is set in a beautiful island called Cephalonia in Greece and we follow the hilarious, bizarre, heart-breaking lives of its inhabitants during world war two, upon the invasion of the Italian soldiers. This is perhaps the first book I have ever read where I have cared as much for the minor characters as for the protagonists, as Louis de Bernieres has created them in so much depth and complexity that they seem so lifelike. His imagery is so vivid that at times it seems more real than reality itself, and I would look up sometimes while reading and be shocked that what I saw did not reflect the kaleidoscope of colour of Louis de Bernieres' version of Cephalonia.

In this review I am going to struggle not to spoil the mind-blowing events that take place as they are so painful that they made me want to scream, so exciting that I wanted to jump up and hug every person I saw and tell them the story of how Pelagia falls in love with the handsome, funny, captivating Captain Antonio Corelli.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some fairy-tale love story for girls to swoon over, not at all, but it is impossible for anyone not to fall in love with the Captain; I certainly did! When him and his soldiers first arrive, we sympathise for him as the Greeks use all their might to make them feel very much not at home, but your love for him grows as the Greeks’ does as you laugh at his attempts to capture the heart of Pelagia and her father, and this grows even more as we hear him play his beloved mandolin Antonia.  The most sceptical of you will question my claim that you can hear him play, but I must insist on Louis de Bernieres' vivid description which truly tricks you into believing you can hear him play the tremolo on this beautiful instrument. 

However, amidst the love and laughter, there is a dark undertone because of the war. The family struggles to find food, the various leaders of Europe are worrying in their offices and even the soldiers keep secrets. Louis de Berniere uses this beautiful story to convey the true atrocity of the war and the consequences it had on real people. It is true that sometimes we look back on the distant story of World War Two and hear the deaths as a mere statistic and the horror of it is never truly conveyed to us. This book makes you think twice about your allegiances and consider what is right in a world that can so easily be torn apart.


Please, if you read one book this year, make it this one.

From the Culford School Student Newspaper "Blue Stripe"

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