Archive for February, 2011

February 8, 2011

The Rare Book That Gives Back Whatever You Put Into It.

by bubblesheets

A John Berger quote in the pages preceding In the Skin of a Lion states “Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one”. This proclamation engulfs Michael Ondaatje’s writing as stories and characters grow and flow out – and back in – of one another.

Set in Depression-Era Ontario and centred on the workers of the Toronto’s Bloor St. Viaduct and Water Filtration Plant Michael Ondaatje creates rich visual tapestries of a world with little visual history. The story is told primarily from the perspective of rural-raised Patrick Lewis. Although we generally see his humbly emerging development through his own eyes it’s the lives of others from whence his life is understood – reinforcing Berger’s mantra. The character of Patrick embodies Ondaatje’s own writing style; obsessed with intricate particulars and nuances. This is showcased in the life of Patrick through his enthrallment with bugs at night, the curvature and beauty of lover Clara’s body and the meticulous specifics of lover Alice’s personality.

Ondaatje exposes his characters through a methodical “cast-forward and reel back”, jumping into timelines midway through. He charges through significant stories, new characters introduced with no explanation, their back-story only to be revealed chapters later. This is one of the many ploys Ondaatje utilizes to challenge the reader. Dialogue jumps in and out of paragraphs with sentences often going unattributed. Conversations start in mid-prose, often going unnoticed until mid-dialogue. Ondaatje’s background in poetry makes a forceful impression on the writing. Although this often tests the reader’s patience it is ultimately rewarding with single lines, stanzas and paragraphs with enough depth and complexity to chew on for weeks afterwards.

While his scrupulous historical accuracy can be distracting and laborious it ultimately blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction imploring the reader to accept and digest the story as if it were a second-hand telling of family history. He makes his world a reality through precise details like the radio music of Fats Waller, Toronto’s city-planning visionary R.C. Harris or the geography of urban and rural Ontario. Beyond this attention to specifics it’s in his characters where a deeper reality is found. Each character evolves while retaining core features and as the story carries we see a common thread that for each of them; within their greatest strengths lays their flaws – possibly another allusion to Ondaatje’s writing within his characters. Whether it’s Patrick’s romance and softness leaving him malleable and susceptible, the premature maturity of orphaned Hana or the sexual leverage of temptress Clara allowing but ultimately cheating her of freedom.

While In the Skin of a Lion holds enough simple beauty for amateur readers with patience, it has profundity sufficient for scholars. It can stand alone as a worthwhile read but a greater knowledge of literary history reveals layers upon layers of intricacy and depth in its writing. This necessitates rereading as each coursing uncovers a new book. Therefore never again should this story be read as though it were only one.

February 7, 2011

The Journey of a Life Time

by sheldonbesselink

The great Canadian author Micheal Ondaatje’s has created a unique novel called In The Skin Of A Lion that is set in the early 1900’s in and around the city of Toronto. This novel is comprised of several stories that overlap the main character, Patrick Lewis, a character that you will grow to love, admire, or hate due to some of his questionable actions. This story is not only about extremes some will go for ‘love’ and the unique journey the characters take. It is a story about the hardship that the men and women who helped create this country of ours faced. Micheal gave a story, rather a voice not only to the individuals depicted in the story, but also all those who sacrificed so much; the individual that do not have monuments or their name in history books, but those who literally built this country with their blood, sweat, and tears.

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February 4, 2011

In the Skin of Toronto

by aliwhitee

Michael Ondaatje’s “In the Skin of the Lion” is an interwoven series of stories creating a fascinating and passionate historical account of Toronto in the 1920s. This accurate description of the time period depicts Toronto as a city filled with opportunity and imagination. The novel follows the life of Patrick Lewis, beginning in rural Ontario with his father learning the ropes of his trade, until his father dies in a dynamite incident. The reader is then taken years later into Patrick’s future in the city of Toronto, where he falls in love with Clara Dickens, the mistress of the missing millionaire Ambrose Small. After Clara is gone from his life, Patrick finds himself working in the dim, dirty tunnel under Lake Ontario, one of many labourers contributing to the creation of the Bloor Street Viaduct. Throughout the novel Ondaatje introduces several characters and their interconnected relationships with Patrick and each other, without allowing the reader to fully understand the stories of each character. These other characters, a rescued nun turned actress, a bridge worker turned baker, and a thief turned accomplice, all contribute to the challenges and passions of Patrick’s life.

Ondaatje’s evocative writing creates a poetic account of Toronto in 1920s situated in a theoretical and historical framework. He is able to give new meanings to landmarks that may seem insignificant to some through the efforts, pains, and passions of innumerable people. Written in a time of mass immigration and innovation, the story was depicted through the eyes of the mainly immigrant workers, who were responsible for the building of some of the city’s greatest structures. Ondaatje gives these workers recognition in a time when they were mainly unnoticed, providing them with the credit they deserve for their labour. “In the Skin of a Lion” additionally touches on the class struggle between those who envision the city and those who physically create it, such as Patrick.  The masses of labourers in their grinding poverty are well contrasted with the privileged rich. The characters’ hardships evoke emotions of passion and frustration towards those in power on both the reader and the characters themselves.  Patrick is used as bridge between the characters and the storyline, combined through historical fact and Ondaatje’s poetic fiction.

Overall, Ondaatje’s novelistic skills provide the reader with rich literary insight into the historical development of 1920s Toronto. Although Ondaatje tended to leave out areas of the plot, it allows the reader to fill these gaps with their own imagination, making the reader curious as to whether they have guessed correctly or not. “In the Skin of a Lion” is a novel perfect for readers who enjoy a combination of history and literary intrigue, if this sounds like you, Michael Ondaatje is your guy.


February 3, 2011

In the Skin of Michael Ondaatje

by disentrance

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February 3, 2011

“In the skin of a lion”

by vincentnguyen07

In the novel “In the skin of a lion”, written by a Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, a romantic, adventurous, imaginative, and historic novel, where the reader follows the life of Patrick Lewis. This novel is separated into three different parts where it makes it difficult for the reader to follow and understand while reading the novel. The novel starts off with Patrick’s child life living in Ontario where he learns and follows his father’s views and his neighborhood, in which will soon be a part of his future. Years later  we find Patrick in the city of Toronto during the years of 1920’s where we learn more about his life, where he falls in love with Clara Dickens (in which she is already taken), works extremely hard labor jobs and dealt with prison. Throughout novel, Ondaatje builds a great image of what life was like during the 1920’s by exploring through the challenges that Patrick has to deal with throughout the novel.
Michael Ondaatje wrote this book differently, as mentioned above on how he separates the novel into three different stories. It can become difficult to understand after finishing one story and moving on to the next story of the book because the novel was not in a consistent time frame. Ondaatje made it difficult a bit because he wanted the reader to fit the pieces together from all three parts and putting it as a whole in order to understand the novel and being able to discovery his intentions.

This novel consist a lot of “imagery” because he wrote the book well and descriptive for the reader to imagine what life was like during the 1920’s in relations to what the work field was like, the economy, or even getting a good sense of what Patrick is going through with this complicated relationships with Alice Gull and Clara Dickens. I found that Ondaatje choices of words were great and descriptive which help me to create many scenes in my mind as I read the novel.

What struck me the most after reading this novel was one of the main points Ondaatje was trying to reach out to his readers. During the course of the novel, many people died while working on the bridge and this is where he wanted to show us of how important people are. In our society, everything we have could not have existed if it weren’t for those gave their contributions for our society. People have died for us, and I think we just have to think about it, respect, and appreciate the things that they worked hard for, building up what we see in our world as it is today.

February 3, 2011

Love Triangles and Confused Lions

by kristiemendoza

The concept of having conflict amongst the different classes in society has always been a consistent indication that humans believe that societies must be segregated by a system of class. Through the course of history, authority and repression have always been a constant fight concerning the poor and the rich. In Michael Ondaatje’s novel, “In the Skin of a Lion,” an in-depth sense of conflict is being told in a unique way. His story reveals the lives of the poor immigrants that are new to Canada and have to survive in the fast, developing city of Toronto in the early twentieth century. Ondaatje describes the adversities the immigrated families had to conquer, and their efforts and hatred directed at the wealthy. The main theme of this literary fiction is the opposition between the rich and poor of society, which is being portrayed through conflicts and the characters that arise in the story.

Ondaatje is a Canadian writer of prose and poetry whose skill of expression captivates audiences from across the world. His novel, “In the Skin of a Lion,” has brought much success to his involvement in literature. This is the novel in which he creates such relatable characters that have their own, personal story. The main character, Patrick Lewis, goes through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, while experiencing pain, love, and confusion.

The theme of rivalry between the wealthy and poor finally appears in “The Searcher,” in which Patrick is hired to investigate the disappearance of millionaire, Ambrose Small. The audience is presented to Ambrose Small’s mistress, Clara Dickens. Clara becomes Patrick’s lover, where he suddenly falls deeply in love with her. Only after a few weeks is when Clara tells Patrick, “…sometime after that I’ll leave you…for Ambrose” (Ondaatje 72). She would leave him for Ambrose, because of his wealth and power, which leaves Patrick heartbroken. The controversy between Patrick and Ambrose surely reflects on the theme of the novel.

Before Clara leaves, Patrick is introduced to Clara’s friend, Alice Gull. Alice is another character besides Patrick in this novel to show aggression to the rich. She has an immense hatred towards the rich, where she tells Patrick to “name the enemy and destroy their power” (Ondaatje 124). This is what Alice sets out to do; start a revolt.

Although from the beginning of the novel the reader may feel confused, after reading the final two chapters the story becomes clear. If readers are interested in stories depicting love triangles, this is the novel to read.

February 2, 2011

“… On his streets, their streets, for he was their alien” (113).

by Parmis

The history of Toronto is a colourful one. Home to the highest immigration rates in Canada, Toronto is nicknamed “The Gateway for Immigrants.” In 2006 the national census calculated just over 6 million foreign-born residents living in Canada, in which nearly half (2.3 million) lived in Toronto alone. They represented nearly one-fifth (19.8%) of the total population, this being the highest percentage since the national census from 1911 to 1931, when 22.2% of the population was foreign born (Statistics Canada). Interestingly enough, the period of 1911 to 1931 coincides almost exactly to the time in which Michael Ondaatje embarks us on a journey through In the Skin of a Lion which tells the story of various young settlers, each with their own story that crosses paths with one another in the turbulent city of Toronto.

Ondaatje takes us back to the period of the early nineteenth century, when immigration was just beginning to take off. In the Skin of a Lion tells the vicarious stories of the young and exploited working class, a famed radio actress with a missing millionaire, a baker, and an antecedent nun with a near death experience. It is told from the vantage point of its various string of characters, all intertwined like separate branches of vines constantly crisscrossing at various points in their lives. Ondaatje seamlessly travels from character to character, from time period to time period leaving the reader constantly guessing. Although each story is told separately, they are all connected by the underlying theme of identity and its ability to morph and change over lifetimes. “Each person had their moment when they assumed the skins of wild animals, when they took responsibility for the story” (157).

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February 2, 2011

In the Skin of a Lion Review

by blairesmith

Although Michael Ondaatje has won awards for his writings, In the Skin of the Lion does not meet the expectations set by his other pieces, such as The English Patient. The book follows Patrick Lewis, a main character, in his journey from childhood to adulthood. He moves to Toronto, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, which becomes the main setting for the plot. His character helps in some of the shaping of the city and aspects of Canadian history are included in, and are in fact vital to the development of the story.

The book opens with a quote by John Berger, “Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one”. Ondaatje takes this quote to heart, but the resulting interwoven stories don’t allow the reader to develop relationships with the characters. It is hard to relate to, or get to know the characters when Ondaatje shares so little about them. He reveals only certain parts of the characters lives and therefore leaves them with their own personal stories that the reader is excluded from.

Though Ondaatje’s use of imagery is incredible, this vividness causes the images themselves to become the focus of the book rather than the central plot. He develops the setting and scenes in which the story takes place more than the story itself. For example, the filtration plant in which Patrick helps build is described in great detail, even the mules used for work are included, “…remembering the teeth of the animals distinct, that screaming, the feet bound so they wouldn’t slash out and break themselves” (108). The image of the mules is very powerful yet, doesn’t add or bring anything to the story. This writing style Ondaatje uses causes curiosity and questions for the reader, but even by the end of the book, clarity and answers should not be expected.

February 2, 2011

‘In the Skin of the Lion’ Review

by adamhjoe91

The year 1924 was a time of difficulty as the Canadian economy was at a halt in its growth. The novel ‘In the Skin of the Lion’ by Michael Ondaatje, takes place within that period as the protagonist, Patrick Lewis, unravels his future, experiencing hardship and adventure.

This novel is intertwined with a mix of romance and actuality as it reveals true behaviors and true realities that have been faced in history. Ondaatje sets the story in Toronto with Patrick growing up as a child following his life until he reaches his manhood.

The novel begins around the hard working men sacrificing and risking their lives to build a bridge for one greedy man, named Rowland Harris. This is interesting because it is an example of the Marxist theory of exploitation, which formulates the class called the proletariats, and the Bourgeois, which is Harris.

Throughout the book, a part of what makes the novel so intriguing is the fact that Ondaatje does not tell the story in chronological order, and neither does he explain it simply. He jumps around the plot purposely to engage the reader and to let them piece the puzzle together. Many novels just tell the reader what is happening, however in this case, the author shows the reader how everything came together, giving the reader different perspectives and opinions. I first found this novel very annoying due to the inconsistency and confusion, however once I got further into it, it became much more engaging.

Each character in the novel is described not directly, but through every event and experience. They are portrayed in different ways through the interaction with Patrick which is a different approach compared to other stories. The deep friendship and love between Patrick and two girls, named Alice Gull who gives Patrick purpose with security, and Clara Dickens who Patrick falls in love with and who encourages Patrick to open up, represents a part of Patrick’s life and how they helped him to become who he is.

The title ‘In the Skin of the Lion’ at first seems irrelevant, however there are several connections with the theme and the title. The word ‘Power’ is brought up in the novel several times. The lion being the most powerful animal in the jungle, “each person had their moment when they assumed the skins of wild animals, when they took responsibility for the story.”(157) They were all part of one plan, and each individual had important roles, which contributed to one of the several themes; the power struggle between the rich and poor as well as the value of life.

The novel the ‘In the Skin of the Lion,’ can be a simply romantic story of how Patrick became a man with a need of love, but also a story of history and the power struggle between the rich and the poor.

February 2, 2011

Evoking Emotion

by Jessica Brodeur

“In the Skin of a Lion” is a multi-layered piece of literature that invites the reader into the complicated life and times of Canada in and around the 1920s. By touching on bits and pieces of Patrick Lewis’ life and the lives of those around him, Michael Ondaatje takes the reader on a back and forth, even “cubic” journey as the story jumps around in time and space. The development of Toronto itself – mainly the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant – gives a concrete and historical time line and setting. The reader quickly learns that the book is much more than just a document – that it evokes struggle and hardship, love and loss, and deep feeling. Patrick Lewis’s romantic relationships lead him to meet unexpected friends and make even more unexpected connections as he digs in the past. His strong emotions – be it love or remorse or revenge – take him down a path oh which he can never turn back .

The book read in a sense like a play. The characters, besides Patrick Lewis himself, seem outlandish and exaggerated. Exact moments, even habits and auras come easily to the imagination as one reads. The dialogue is powerful and, as much as a book can be, ranges in volume. Although the setup is choppy in style, each scene is a sort of stage on which the characters appear at different points throughout their lives. In its three-part style,  a little bit of suspense is built and some surprise twists appear. Even the costumes and makeup can be imagined vividly as gritty, rancid, and often gruelling work is described meticulously to outline the livelihoods of bridge builders, tunnel diggers, bakers, dyers, and criminals. As much as these passages add to the story, Ondaatje was also attempting to immortalize the workers that helped poor the foundation of Toronto a century ago.

Throughout the book, Ondaatje scratches the surface about issues of social inequality and exploitation, racial relations and migration, but he never dives fully into a deep commitment with this. This is characteristic of his style: leaving plenty to the reader to interpret, put together, and follow up on.

Relationships are the key to understanding Oondatje’s intentions and the development of the plot and cast. Connections of dependency, love, brotherhood, and even searching for someone the character has never even met are explored. The hope is that the reader will experience the sensual nature of the relationships as they shape the storyline, that emotions will be evoked as the story is told. Poetry and prose meet in a moving way to play out the story of “In the Skin of a Lion.”