Michael Ondaatje is probably best known for The English Patient which became a movie starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche and Kristin Scott Thomas. Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion predates The English Patient by five years and indeed, two characters from the novel reappear in the later novel.
What did book club members think?
Two of our members endorsed the novel wholeheartedly speaking highly of Ondaatje’s prose, characters and the ‘magical realism’ of the storyline. As for the majority, reactions were mixed. Many, myself included, agreed that the author’s prose is superb and the setting – post WWI Toronto – particularly intriguing as this is our city. However, this second group found the story itself both confusing and disjoint. Interestingly, Goodreads members echo this division of opinion with many five star and two star reviews.
We spent a while discussing the novel’s focus on immigrants – how they fit into a new culture, who accepts them, who looks down on them, the challenges they face and so on. A particularly relevant theme for today.
So, if you’re a story-driven reader, probably not the best choice. If you love reading beautiful sentences or you are looking for inspiration for your own writing, you might want to indulge in one or more of Ondaatje’s novels. And by the way, The English Patient scores praise for both its prose and its story.
In the Skin of a Lion: Bristling with intelligence and shimmering with romance, this novel tests the boundary between history and myth. Patrick Lewis arrives in Toronto in the 1920s and earns his living searching for a vanished millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. In the course of his adventures, Patrick’s life intersects with those of characters who reappear in Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning The English Patient.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.