The entire story takes place in the mansion. As the story goes on, we see numerous characters contribute their own skills to the smooth operation of their new world. A pianist. A cook. A translator. The Vice President, who essentially becomes the housekeeper. Many of the young rebels, who have lived only in the backwoods, learn about society and luxury they've never imagined before, such as watching TV for the first time. One character, a multilingual Japanese translator named Gen, falls in love with Carmen, one of the young rebels.
Patchett does a masterful job of developing each character without dumping loads of backstory on the reader. The reader feels sympathy for a General with the disease shingles, which causes an ugly, painful rash on his face. Or Cesar, who learns he can sing opera beautifully. Or Carmen, who helps Roxane Coss arrange an amorous tryst with a Japanese businessman. The reader begins to live vicariously in the little false world of the hostages, which is bound to come to a tragic end.
Patchett's language is lyrical, the descriptions rich and humorous at times. She does not stick to any one character's point-of-view, but rather lets it flow from one person to the next, paragraph by paragraph - and makes it work.
If you long for a novel that explores complex situational character relationships, Bel Canto is worth your time.