A Plot Lost in Pretty Words.

by kendralgraham

                Similar to the hardworking men and women illustrated in Michael Ondaatje’s, In the Skin of a Lion this novel is not a lazy person’s story. Ondaatje’s storytelling is vivid and full of imagery that sticks with you but at times makes it a challenge. Admittedly there were numerous times I had to re-read a passage, two or three times, to make sense of it.

Set in the 20’s and 30’s in Toronto, In the Skin of a Lion, follows the life of Patrick Lewis and the construction of Toronto infrastructure by those who died creating it and those who imagined it. Patrick is the son of a dynamiter, who we first meet in his own striking childhood memories. Ondaatje’s scene where Patrick watches the loggers skate on the creek is the second most resonating scene in the entire novel, second only to his colourful and stunning portrayal of Caravaggio. The dreamlike state Ondaatje creates with Patrick’s memories of lightning bugs and his father, foreshadow and carry into the next section of the novel which tells the tale of the Bloor Street Viaduct and Nicholas Temelcoff. “The Bridges” descriptions of the lives of the immigrant workers is grim, stark and yet able to present itself in a way that portrays the wonder and excitement surrounding the project.

In the Skin of a Lion returns to Patrick as he moves to Toronto and as he becomes a “Searcher,” given the task of tracking down missing millionaire Ambrose Small. The focus then shifts to Patrick’s intimate relationships with Clara Dickens and Alice Gull. In the Skin of a Lion focuses on the intensity of these relationships while they occur and after they ultimately end. Emphasis is especially put on the anger and grief which drive Patrick to commit two heinous acts of violence. Where Patrick ends up in Book three, we encounter in my opinion the most pleasurable story in the entire novel, the story of Caravaggio. The story concludes in a confusing manner where Patrick reunites with Alice’s daughter Hana.

In the Skin of a Lion sets the bar for any book trying to create an image and drawn you into an atmosphere. But the overall effect is unfortunately a plot lost in a lot of pretty words. As the story progresses it loses its effectiveness and I still have doubts that I fully grasped it. Vivid and bold, In the Skin of a Lion reminded me of a Picasso painting, lots of pretty colors but no clear picture in the end. In the Skin of a Lion explores how we identify who we are as people and how we shed assumptions others make about us. The weaving of the three books reiterates this fact and made me consider the six degrees of separation theory. I believe every person we meet in our lives has an effect on who we become and Ondaatje provides evidence of this. In the Skin of a Lion brings to mind the saying, “it’s a small world.”

While I appreciated Ondaatje’s beautiful prose and strong characters I was not particularly moved by In the Skin of a Lion. The three book style left me feeling disengaged rather than curious for the next development. The disjointed, lack of dialogue as well as overwhelming use of imagery left me feeling excluded from the story especially in places where I failed to determine significance. Value should be given to the dedication put into the obvious historical references and the often over looked point of view of the working class. I would recommend Ondaatje’s poetic novel to anyone who loves to read for the sake of reading or who loves poetry. But if you are simply a reader searching for a conventional A+B=C novel, In the Skin of a Lion may not be for you, just as it was not for me.


One Comment to “A Plot Lost in Pretty Words.”

  1. I full heartedly agree with your statement about the plot being lost in pretty words. A lot of it didn’t seem to have a purpose to it, and it really detracted from the enjoyment of the book

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