7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars if you onlyever read one ondaatje novel, this is the one
In 1987, Ondaatje wrote his chef d'ouevre, In the Skin of a Lion, which combines the best of his previous prose, poetry, and recent autobiography. Here one will see fictional characters come to believable life, prose more sonorous than most poetry of the day, and learn more about the history and politics of Canada than one does at school (unless, of course, one is...
Published on Feb. 11 2001 by A. Gillingham
3.0 out of 5 stars Poetics mixed with politics
I preface this by saying I'm one of the few who did not enjoy the English Patient. I did enjoy this.
The dreamlike, almost random quality of the narrative is amazing and it's filled with wonderdully imagined details and scenes that really put me in awe of this writer. I laughed out loud when Carvaggio escapes prison by painting himself blue, and found myself...
Published on May 1 2000 by Matthew L. Moffett
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars if you onlyever read one ondaatje novel, this is the one,
In 1987, Ondaatje wrote his chef d'ouevre, In the Skin of a Lion, which combines the best of his previous prose, poetry, and recent autobiography. Here one will see fictional characters come to believable life, prose more sonorous than most poetry of the day, and learn more about the history and politics of Canada than one does at school (unless, of course, one is lucky enough to be Canadian.) Many feel (and I believe rightly so) that this is the book that should have won the prestigious Booker Prize--an honor later given to 1992's The English Patient. Certainly, this is the book that helped give birth to the latter. It is here that we meet Patrick Lewis, Caravaggio, and a much younger Hana. Lewis is the anti-hero of the story, so deftly written that we grow with him, we love with him, and we grieve with him. I somehow feel that Patrick is closer to Ondaatje's heart more so than any other character that he's written until the advent of Kip in The English Patient. The tale of Patrick's life in "Upper America" made me weep at each reading, as did the sheer beauty of Ondaatje's prose. In my humble opinion, it is his finest prose to date.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can never say 'Shh' without a shiver now.,
By A Customer
I will begin with the problem of the book. It reads initially slowly. This is, for many, a problem. It's dense prose, in fractured time. It's also a traditional story, with a plot that moves in a direct line up to the pointed climax, and then a resolution down from that high point.
Basically, the beginning is slow, yet dense, and becomes more intense as time passes. If you have not the patience to push through the first thirty pages, you should stop reading books. The plot thickens, and intensifies until the moment of pointed climax. And I cannot say 'Shh' without a shiver.
The prose: gorgeous without being over-the-top. The characters: firmly and clearly human, while each is a little super-human in their own quiet ways, as many of us are.
In other words, one of the greatest novels in the world to emerge from the late twentieth century. The techniques are firmly rooted in time and place, and the words shed light on a world that is, for us, indescribable. A heart, and a mind, so rare to find together, lies before you. Be prepared for a life-changing journey.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Trust me, this will take time...",
This review is from: In the Skin of a Lion (Paperback)
... but there is order here, very faint, very human." This should be the first sentence of every novel, the narrator reflects midway in Michael Ondaatje extraordinary novel. And he makes taking the time more than worthwhile. Actual short news items are creatively woven into a tapestry of life in and around Toronto during the early decades of the last century. Real or realistic characters, essential for the construction of the city at the time are at the centre of the story: primarily immigrant workers from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds. Ondaatje makes them the heroes of this powerful and captivating novel, with a few established Canadians added into the mix and set against the social and political context of the time. "It is a novel about the wearing and the removal of masks; the shedding of skin, the transformations and translations of identity." Ondaatje stated in an interview, hinting at the novel's title, taken from the ancient Sumerian Epic, Gilgamesh.
A nun falls off a bridge under construction, a millionaire theatre mogul disappears, neither person to be traced or washed up somewhere... "Official histories, news stories surround us daily, but the events of art reach us too late, travel languorously like messages in a bottle." Yet in his novel, the author spins a possible continuation of each news story, bringing the events to life, giving the characters an alternative reality, in which their lives are closely connected to other, imagined, characters.
Patrick Lewis is the central figure in the novel, the linking element of what initially may appear as disconnected stories. With his father he lives on a farm and learns his father's skill as a logging dynamiter. One night, he watches a group of loggers, Finns, dancing on the frozen river, burning cattails in hand. "...Skating the river at night, each of them moving like a wedge into the blackness magically revealing the grey bushes of the shore, HIS shore, HIS river." [emphasis in the text in italics] He is too uncertain of himself to join them despite being transfixed by the beauty and grace of it. "So at this stage in his life, his mind raced ahead of his body." As he grows up and moves around the different lowly jobs open to him, he is increasingly drawn to the communities his mates come from. As one of the few "locals" and English speaking characters, he realizes that the others are not the outsiders, rather he is. He has become the observer and a sideline to events and stories. "His own life was no longer a single story, but part of a mural, which was a falling together of accomplices. Patrick saw a wondrous night web - all of these fragments of a human order, something ungoverned by the family he was born into or the headlines of the day."
One of Patrick's many jobs is that of a "seeker" a private investigator of sorts, who is tasked with finding the whereabouts of Ambrose Small, the theatre mogul. What starts as a job grows into a quest and later obsession, less related to Small as time goes by as to Clara, the gorgeous and mysterious lover. Patrick's emotional maturity will be tested more than once.
Ondaatje is a poet at heart. He is well known for his lyrical strength in evoking emotions and describing intimate relationships and in this novel, these form an essential element in his protagonist's life. In addition, though, whether evoking the atmosphere of the loggers dance on the ice or the depicting the construction workers labouring on the bridge, the leather dyers at the abattoir, he finds a language that adds vivid imagery and poetry to the hardest human conditions. Few authors would have the power of words to bring beauty to the description of the leather dyers, covered in yellow, blue or green dyes, standing together like a living sculpture... Their dangerous work, like that of the bridge construction workers or the dynamiter and others is conveyed with understanding, empathy for the men while at the same time reflecting the growing anger against those in control: those who take "collateral" damage for granted and pass on to the next party and drink. The social tensions in the society of the day are one of the underlying threads of the novel, integrated subtly as an integral part of the immigrants' surroundings and realities. Similar to Divisadero, the various narrative strings are pulled together at the end, but it is helpful to re-read the beginning to close the ellipse completely. A remarkable novel of timeless power [Friederike Knabe]
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars all the beauty that surrounds us,
I am trapped by these words, I slow down on each one almost notwanting to know what comes next because I know it'll most certainly besomething that puts me in awe and leaves me hungry for more.
I thought The English Patient was a wonderful book, I walked in Libyan desert looking for Zerzura for weeks after reading that book. But In The Skin Of A Lion is something so much more. This book moves me so I'm left speechless. The continuance, the surprises, the beauty, the characters. If it was possible to choose to write like someone I would absolutely pick Michael Ondaatje. His work is simply beautiful.
I am amazed. Read this book, read all of them. Find the fine red line that ties all the stories together. END
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Qustion about the title,
I thought this was a mystical enchanting book. The descriptions of work were strong and powerful. Who can forget the images of dangeling from the bridge, dynamiting the log jams, digging the waterworks tunnel. Partrick is a "Billy Budd" character committed to ideals and responsibilities. A question. On page 224 it says "He [Harris] stood over Patrick." 'He lay down to sleep, until he was woken from out of a dream. He saw the lions around him glorying in life; then he took his axe in his hand, he drew his sword from his belt, and he fell upon them like an arrow from the string." Brackets are mine. I feel sure this a Biblical reference. Do you know where it is from? I am very interested to know the answer. Please reply to email@example.com
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and...,
This review is from: In The Skin Of A Lion (Paperback)
...gripping and funny and sexy and sad and insightful and introspective and nostalgic and erotic and interesting and ________.
I read this story AFTER The English Patient and was so In the Skin of Lion, to me, was like a prequel to the story and characters that I already knew and loved.
This book deserves every great thing ever said about it.
4.0 out of 5 stars Toronto's forgotten history,
This review is from: In the Skin of a Lion (Paperback)
In the Skin of a Lion is many stories in one: a solitary farm boy trying to make it in the Big City, a story of passion and obsession, a story of a city's forgotten history, and a story about the immigrant experience in 1920s Toronto.
As with Ondaatje's other novels, the story can be dense and difficult to follow at times. The writing, however, is wonderful and makes you keep reading even when you're not entirely sure what exactly you're reading about. Ondaatje's writing is like poetry. He has such a beautiful way with words, I found myself rereading passages regularly just to feel the words again.
I read that one of the things Ondaatje intended to do with this novel is shine a light on a part of Canadian history, and Toronto's local history that often gets overlooked. The Bloor Street Viaduct and the Harris Waterworks are Toronto landmarks that were built by immigrants who, once the work was done, were largely forgotten. Ondaatje does a masterful job of bringing the building of these landmarks to life. He captures the sense of grandeur, adventure, danger, frustration of the time. These were my favourite parts of the novel.
Very highly recommended!
4.0 out of 5 stars In the Skin of a Lion: a passionate Canadian story.,
This is a wonderful novel, well worth a read. It is not quick work, as the reader becomes lost in Ondaatje's poetic prose. At times, it is difficult to follow all of the elements of plot, but this is precisely because of the disparate elements of the protagonist's life.
This novel was recently selected by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as the subject matter of a national book club. What a grand idea for all Canadians to share, discuss, and appreciate this fine work of one of our most memorable writers.
4.0 out of 5 stars Michael Ondaatje's Anti-Hero,
As some of the reviewers have said, _In The Skin Of A Lion_ must be read slowly to be truly appreciated, otherwise much of the subtleties of this beautifully written, poetic, and sometimes maddeningly abstract novel will be missed. I usually have no difficulty reading a book while travelling on a train or a bus, but with this book the various distractions made it very difficult to do so. On a number of occasions I found it worthwhile to backtrack to re-read much of what I missed in my first reading.
The book, not so much plot driven, acts more as a mood piece on the romances of Patrick Lewis, the main character, as well as painterly images of the Canadian farms and woodlands and then of workmen's tunnelling under the Great Lakes to build the waterworks which play a very important part in the novel. Then there's the prison escape scene, which may be described as "a meditation in blue."
When plot and action take over, the story becomes incredibly riveting. It made me proud of those individuals, often times desperate, who have risked probable prison terms, and even their lives, to fight for the rights of the little people who built the world's great architectural structures against the millionaires who exploited these workers for financial gain. Patrick Lewis (and Caravaggio, who later appears in _The English Patient_) is such a man, and he is the novel's true heroic anti-hero.
4.0 out of 5 stars Romantic, Cubist, Very Well Crafted,
There is no more poetic and skillful an author on the scene today and this book is a fine illustration of his extraordinary talent. Part of the "big deal" that some fail to see is the sheer mastery with which Ondaatje paints a very deep and complicated portrait of the protagonist and his historical and geographical contexts. He comes at the characters and the plot from a variety of angles. But unlike Faulkner, (those who think this novel difficult should open "The Sound and the Fury"!) Ondaatje uses third person narration to keep us from getting lost. Ondaatje use of metaphor is almost overwhelming and that, ironically, is one of my problems with the book.
It is a bit too romantic in its depictions of some exceedingly difficult lives and there are too many metaphoric descriptions. Everything seems weighted. Nothing is light or allowed to pass easily. That is why some say the book is slow. But it does move along quite well. You need to read it slowly. It's not something to be crammed down or hurried.
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In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje (Paperback - June 18 1996)
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