I struggled a bit with the opening chapters of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ until I got orientated, and I found the closing chapters a little unsatisfactory, though maybe only in the same way that life itself can be unsatisfactory, but I fell deeply in love with everything between: so much that is tender, so much that is humorous, so much that is unbearably sad. Here is an excerpt from Dr Iannis’s funeral valediction for Carlo Guercio, who died trying to save his friend Corelli from the bullets of their executioners. The high style may be unfashionable now, but in the context of the book it seems just right, and Dr Iannis’ words are surely in the best traditions of Greek oratory: one senses the ghost of Pericles looking on approvingly.
P.S. don’t judge the book on the film, which even more than most films fails entirely to render the quality of the book.
‘Our friend’, he said, ‘who arrived as an enemy, has passed over the meadows of asphodel. We found him fuller of the knowledge of goodness than any other mortal man. We remember that his many decorations were for saving lives, not destroying them. We remember that he died as nobly as he lived, valiant and strong. We are creatures of a day, but his spirit will not dim. He made an eager grace of life and was arrested mid-path by blood-boltered men, whose name will live in infamy down the passage of years. These also will pass away, but unlamented and unforgiven; the meed of death is common to us all. When death comes to these men they shall become spirits drifting uselessly in the dark, for man’s day is very short before the end, and the cruel man, whose ways are cruel, lies accursed and is a by-word after death. But the spirit of Carlo Guercio shall live in the light as long as we have tongues to speak of him and tales to tell our friends.
…. Sleep long and well. You will not be curbed by age, you will not grow weak, you will not know sorrows nor infirmity. As long as we remember you, you will be remembered fair and young. Cephallonia has no greater honour than to count itself the guardian of your bones.’
Louis de Bernières