In The Skin of A Lion

by kimberlypleasance

In Michael Ondaatje’s book “In the Skin of a Lion” history comes to life along with Ondaatje’s thought provoking characters. The scene is set in Toronto during the early 1900’s and provides the reader with an understanding of how Toronto was constructed. The book follows the character of Patrick through his life taking you on a journey of struggle, romance, and adventure. While Patrick encounters some highs but mostly lows, he is connected to other characters all of whom have their own stories and hardships. The history and setting of Toronto takes hold of each character affecting them in different ways. 

Ondaatje’s writing style flows smoothly between fact and fiction giving the book accuracy and realism. The characters each partake in the history of Toronto, specifically the main character helps construct the tunnel for the R.C. Harris water treatment plant. “Although he dynamites for the foreman, most of the time Patrick works with the muckers in the manual digging” (107). Evidently, participating in the building of Toronto affects the main character, “Each blow against the shale wall jars up from the palms into the shoulders as if the body is hit” (129). While the realism of Ondaatje’s writing helps transport the reader to another time it does not aid the reader in understanding the characters.

The book at times can become frustrating and confusing. Ondaatje forces the reader to ask questions and make their own connections in order to come to an understanding of the characters. The focus will move from one character to another, Ondaatje choosing to share pivotal years and moments of the character’s life. From these moments it’s possible to gain a deeper and more peculiar understanding of the character’s actions, desires, and motives.

While Ondaatje leaves the reader with mysterious inquiries for his characters he does enable the reader to make some connections; sometimes even plainly stating the evidence. This is exemplified by, “if Alice Gull had been a nun?”(146), providing the readers with obvious connections.   

Overall the book is very well written with an intriguing plot. It is not for the leisurely reader but for someone seeking a challenge. If accepting of the task to make connections and ask questions you will be rewarded with an exceptional novel. With some thought and understanding it is clear what Michael Ondaatje means to be “In the skin of a Lion”.

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