Thursday, September 16, 2010

In the Skin of a Lion: Arty historical fiction about Toronto

In the Skin of a LionIn the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the middle of this novel, Ondaatje writes:

"The first sentence of every novel should be: "Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.'"

And this seems to be Ondaatje's philosophy about his novels.

I read this book because we are headed to Toronto at the end of August, and this was described to me as the "quintessential Toronto novel." However, I found myself scanning pages and anxiously hoping that I would get to the end. Not signs of a good novel for me!

Some passages I found intriguing--notably the ones about the workers building the viaduct, tunneling under Lake Ontario, and laboring in the tannery--Ondaatje has a knack for describing the dirtiest and most dangerous sorts of work and helping the reader understand what it is like. Ondaatje is a poet, and some of his writing I found beautiful.

He had a few strong female characters in the story too.

I have a certain amount of tolerance for novelists flitting from one character's perspective to another, or one point of time to another. But this book made me dizzy. I was hoping that I would have a better understanding at the end of how it all fit together.

Many goodreads reviewers describe this book as one of their favorites. It's very arty and avant garde: not really my cup of tea, I suppose.

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