Deliberate Confusion

by jessicamethven

In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje is a historical novel set in Toronto during the early 20th century. The main character, Patrick Lewis is introduced as a young boy. The next chapter Patrick appears, he has reached adulthood and has taken on the job of a searcher. He is in search of Ambrose Small, a missing millionaire. Along his journey he falls in love with various women who are connected to one another. Patrick finds himself working a variety of different jobs throughout his life time. His battle with love is a reoccurring theme that is tested at the end of the novel.

There is a sense of confusion during the first part of the book, leaving the reader to feel lost. Ondaatje forces the reader to trust everything will come together and eventually make sense; even though some chapters seem to be completely unrelated. This novel forces the reader to really pay attention, and sometimes re-read pages because of the confusion being felt. The novel is not always being told from the main characters point of view, making it seem unclear in some chapters. This creates questions to arise for the reader, causing them to step back and think about what has just been said, and by whom. Ondaatje is able to pull all the elements of the story together and allow the reader to make connections between the chapters. The ending of the novel does not give a clear definite answer or ending, forcing you to imagine what happens on your own.

The historical references are realistic to the setting of Toronto; The Bloor Street Viaduct Bridge, and the Toronto Water Treatment Plant. Ondaatje’s imagery and description makes the reader feel as though they are there; watching what is going on. The work described going into the building of the tunnels, and the pain the workers endure with each strike at the earth as they, “dig underneath one of the largest lakes in North America,” has extreme imagery.

The sexuality is very subtly intertwined in the novel that it becomes shocking to read. The blatant form of writing does not allow the reader to embrace what is about to be said. When Patrick is a young boy he enjoys catching fireflies with one of his handkerchief, “years later, Clara making love to him in a car, catching his semen in the handkerchief and flinging it out onto the bushes on the side of the road.”

In the Skin of a Lion is a difficult read that requires a lot of concentration and patience. Ondaatje is able to create confusion, historical referencing, and present blatant sexuality in a way that ties the story together; keeping the reader wondering. This love story is anything but typical. The deliberate underlining sense of confusion forces the reader’s mind to wander. Frustration is felt throughout this novel and is continues past the final lines of the novel.

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