I’m trying something new here and (at least for the next little while) will be devoting the first Friday of every month to sharing about one of my favourite books. I love talking about and reviewing new (to me) books, but I don’t often get to talk about books I’ve read in the past and really love.
These won’t be complete reviews but instead I’ll share a little about the book and why I love it. I’m starting with the book that is usually my answer to the question, “What is your favourite book?” Any book lover knows what an impossible question that is and there are a few titles that struggle in my mind for that top spot but I generally settle on In the Skin of a Lion.
I love Ondaatje’s writing in general – the way he blends poetry and fiction. His descriptions are both beautiful and powerful and he makes unexpected portions of history (like the building of the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto) come to life. I have yet to read anything by Ondaatje that I don’t love but I think In the Skin of a Lion looms largest in my mind for two reasons. Firstly, because it was the first of Ondaatje’s writing that I ever read and secondly because I love the character of Patrick. He’s an ordinary, thoughtful guy. Someone that, in real life, would be easily passed over and I think that’s why he’s such a bold choice for a protagonist. Ondaatje takes this seemingly average character and slowly draws him, expands him, showing us how he is a fully rounded human being, with unexpected corners and thoughts. Just as real people are. And, I think, that’s where the power of Ondaatje’s writing comes from – that hidden in amongst the history and the poetry, here are the stories of real people, who just happen to be fictional.
In the same vein, the thief Caravaggio is an excellent character. More of a larger-than-life type than Patrick but bold and colourful and altogether real. (And also a delight when he makes an appearance in the semi-sequel to this novel, The English Patient.
The romances and relationships depicted here have depth and strength and believable tragedy. The history comes softly alive and Ondaatje shows the world as a beautiful, complicated place. If you haven’t read any of MIchael Ondaatje’s writing, I recommend it all but I would definitely say start with In the Skin of a Lion.
(You can read more about my love for this particular book in this post: My Life in Books.)