Books Like Bel Canto
Bel Canto, the 2001 novel by Ann Patchett, won numerous awards and also received an opera as well as a film adaptation. While the story is based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis one of the central themes of the novel is music. However, Bel Canto which means "beautiful singing" in Italian, is not the only novel where music has a prominent role in the story. Check out the following books like Bel Canto for more examples of stories with musical themes.
by Vikram Seth
An Equal Music by Vikram Seth is the story of two very gifted musicians. One, Michael Holme, is a violinist and member of the successful Maggiore Quartet. The other, Julia McNicholl, is a pianist who Michael loved and left ten years earlier. However, memories of Julia have haunted Michael since they broke up, but she has since moved on and became a wife and mother. When Julia unexpectedly reenters Michael's life the two find their romance flaring up again even though both of them are in relationships. It's an affair that places their personal lives and musical careers in jeopardy as secrets are uncovered in the process. An Equal Music is not only a riveting story, but Seth also pleased musical fans with the accuracy in which he describes music in the novel.
by Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan tackles music of a different genre with her novel, A Visit From The Goon Squad. It's the tale of Bennie Salazar and Sasha. The one is a former punk rocker turned record executive while the other is the troubled young woman in his employment. The novel chronicles the paths that these two characters took in life and their fascinating backstories. Egan opted for an unusual narrative structure for the novel and each of the thirteen chapters is set in different time periods and functions as individual stories. Rock music also plays an important role in the novel as many of the characters work in the music industry and it ties in with a lot of the other themes in the story.
by Bernard MacLaverty
Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty is the story of Catherine McKenna, a young composer. Catherine returns to Belfast after a long absence to attend her father's funeral, which reminds her of all the reasons why she left. Not only was she stifled by the Catholic enclave, but also couldn't cope with her nagging mother anymore or the pervading tensions of the city itself. Grace Notes deals with the emotions Catherine feels during her return, but it is also the story of how she became pregnant, had to deal with postpartum depression, and eventually fled from the abusive father of her child. Music plays an important role in the story as Catherine uses it as a way to deal with her depression and devotes herself to creating a master symphony.
by Roddy Doyle
The Commitments is a 1987 novel by Roddy Doyle and the first in The Barrytown Trilogy. It was followed by The Snapper in 1990 and The Van in 1991. The novel follows the lives of a group of unemployed youths from the Northside of Dublin. Their goal is to form a band, but their lack of knowledge about the music business keeps them confined to their small neighborhood. It's only after recruiting a friend from school to be their manager that things begin to look up for the band. However, they are unprepared for the tension and drama that comes with the territory. The Commitments was eventually turned into a film as well as a long-running West End stage show and the whole trilogy is a great read for music fans.
by Angie Thomas
On The Come Up by Angie Thomas was released in 2019 and is set in the same universe as her successful debut novel, The Hate U Give. It's the story of a sixteen-year-old rapper named Bri who has aspirations to become an underground hip-hop legend. It's an intensely personal dream for her as her father was an underground hip hop legend but died just before he could make it big. Unfortunately for Bri, her first song propels her into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. However, with her family falling on hard times, she might have to embrace her new image as a way out.
by Tim Bowler
Starseeker is a 2002 young adult novel by Tim Bowler about a young boy named Luke Stanton. After being threatened and bullied by the boys from his village Luke agrees to break into a house of an old lady and steal a jewelry box. However, instead of finding what he is looking for in the house, Luke instead stumbles across something that changes his life forever. Starseeker deals with issues of love and loss, but music is also one of the central themes of the story as Luke is a gifted piano player and the author has a knack for describing the songs he plays throughout the book.
by David Mitchell
David Mitchell has already made a name for himself with novels such as Cloud Atlas in 2004. Utopia Avenue, which was published in 2020, sees him returning to music as a theme as the novel chronicles the trials and tribulations of a fictional British band from the sixties. Music plays an important role in the story as the novel features plenty of cameos from musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Keith Moon, and many others. Utopia Avenue also follows the precedent of other David Mithcell novels by referencing characters from his previous works. The novel is a celebration of the power of music and each chapter follows a different member of the band as they navigate the perils of the industry.