This, as my teacher told us, is a novel one must reread every five years or so.
Not a quick or easy read, The English Patient one of those books written in language so distilled, so concentrated, that one phrase can be explicated for pages. Its images, many of which I do not yet understand and many of which I'm sure I missed this time through, slip in and out of your consciousness long after you've finished the novel. The effect is that of someone tugging gently on your sleeve and saying "hey, pay attention -- this is important, this is what meaning is made of."
The story is that of 4 characters who have come to inhabit a bombed-out, ruined and abandoned Italian villa towards the end of world war 2. With supreme skill as a storyteller, Ondaatje dips us into their pasts, so that we are made aware of their stories snapshot by snapshot; this is particularly true of the mysterious nameless faceless 'English patient', a severe burn victim with a deep, secretive history.
There is such power in this novel I'd like to bottle its spirit, its poetry and its beauty, and carry it with me. This book is IMPORTANT to me. I cannot say any more than that.