Confusion of thought,

by djohnson9

Distracting images
Michael Ondaatje uses a combination of images and sporadic character development to create a novel which has raised mixed feelings within the reader’s mind. In the Skin of a Lion is a tale of struggle through the development of the city of Toronto during the beginning of the twentieth century. Ondaatje focuses on the creation of what he assumes many will know and recognize as modern Toronto not only through landmarks but through his painting of the lives of those who built this city. This novel follows the life of Patrick Lewis as the main character with ancillary character stories relating back to his own. We follow Patrick on his journey through life, love and loss.
Ondaatje’s use of images paints vivid landscapes upon which his characters lives are portrayed for us to glimpse only for a moment. The powerful images such as, “the light begins to come out of the earth. They see their hands, the textures on a coat”(25) lend themselves to his poetic pretences and as such detract from the story as a whole. Dynamic images and phrases can distract from our ability to grasp what is trying to be said by the characters, whose time with us is fleeting as Ondaatje limits us to less than one hundred pages per book. Our ability to gain an understanding of the characters we are reading about is heavily impacted by a number of factors.
Ondaatje’s choice to have one main character who interacts heavily with a number of different characters has a significant impact on us as readers. We are given only small portions of who Patrick is at various points in the novel and we are forced to contend with the additional characters lives as well. These form a muddled understanding which creates confusion on the part of the reader at many points throughout the story.
Michael Ondaatje is a talented writer both in fiction and in poetry, yet it appears that In the Skin of a Lion has been a failed attempt at melding these together. Ondaatje can create fantastic images through his use of words, formulating settings which allow the mind to explore the expanses which his words create. Yet his choice of story structure takes away from our ability to explore these settings which he has painted for us. Our lack of connection to what we know of the characters we are following distracts us from appreciating the beauty of his words. This in itself is a self imposed detriment to his writings.
Each of us has preferences to certain writing styles and as such chooses books accordingly. With this in mind I leave with a few words about Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. For those who enjoy sitting down and polishing off a book in a single sitting this book can provide considerable mental and emotional stimulation. For the rest of us his images however powerful can cause distraction from an already scattered plot.


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