Book Club reads In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

intheskinofalionMichael 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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

Writer’s Shelfie

Writer's ShelfieDerek Birks author of Feud, A Traitor’s Fate and Kingdom of Rebels tagged me to create a ‘writer’s shelfie’ with books that are important to my writing. I chose ten which seemed like a reasonable number, although I could have selected a lot more.

Letters of Agar Adamson – nothing beats real letters and diaries for helping a writer to appreciate WWI with small details on conditions and everyday soldiering. Agar’s are superb and I’ve written about them in the past.

Vimy by Pierre Berton – the battle for Vimy Ridge features in both of my published novels and will get a mention in my next novel as well. Berton’s non-fiction account has been my companion for at least five years. It is well thumbed and underlined.

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris – this non-fiction memoir has nothing to do with war, however, it has everything to do with the human spirit and what are writers without exploring the human spirit?

Three Day Road and Deafening are novels written about the Canadian experience of WWI. Boyden and Itani are excellent writers – so I have looked to them for both war and technique.

I consult The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and Write Away by Elizabeth George regularly. Lukeman brings an agent’s perspective while George talks more about writing as craft and process. Several other writing books are on my shelves.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is an example of writing at its finest. Inspiration lies in every paragraph.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is one of THE books on WWI.

The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson is a story told in poetry. At times I find a phrase that speaks to me and prompts my own writing. I have another book of poetry and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations that I also use in this way.