“In The Skin Of A Lion” Book Review

by felicityhoeberechts

“In the Skin of a Lion” is the first book I have read by Michael Ondaatje. The story follows the life of Patrick Lewis through his adolescence to adulthood, and his fight for love while dealing with the stresses of work in the Depression. He falls in love with a young woman named Clara who eventually leaves him, leaving Patrick heartbroken. He then finds love with one of Clara’s oldest friends, Alice Gull, only to lose her as well.

I was immediately drawn in by the raw and realness he exudes, which in turn attracted me to the story and characters.  His way of using vivid imagery causes you to get sucked right back in time to the early 20th Century Canada, during the Depression, where the fight just to survive in the economy is so prevalent, that a better understanding of the characters and their lives evolves. Ondaatje wrote very little back-story about the characters, leaving it up to the readers to figure out who the characters were through different events and how they dealt with them. The story jumped around quite a bit, causing me some confusion with the loss of flow and consistency.

It’s a coming of age story as well as a love story; however, there is an underlying theme of violence on several levels, which Ondaatje seems to be studying all the way through the book. There is the physical, with Patrick’s knowledge and use of explosives in his work, and there are the psychological struggles between him and his rival for the hand of Clara. When he loses Alice, he lashes out by burning down a building. Patrick is very passionate about love and craves it. He wants someone to grow old with “He had always wanted to know her when she was old. …” (pg. 163). He gets little tastes of love which are suddenly taken away, all throughout his life.

We follow his story from adolescence to adulthood with sensitivity and love but also with the bitterness and anger of unrequited love. The violence creeps through his unhappiness and manifests itself in him setting fires and blowing things up, rather than discussing or rationalizing his hurt. Perhaps, Ondaatje feels that violence is a large part of the human condition, as our history clearly displays.

In all I found this book a different kind of read. The way Ondaatje writes and tells his stories is not an everyday style. This book was written in the traditional three acts, letting the characters go away, grow up, change and then come back years later, thereby helping the story to evolve and blossom. I really enjoyed that aspect, because it has become a rarity in literature today. I would be open to reading another of Ondaatje’s books in the near future.



One Comment to ““In The Skin Of A Lion” Book Review”

  1. Your observation about the three books: three acts analogy is nicely put; it also complements the novel’s use of light/dark and on/off stage and performance – especially in relation to Clara and Alice Gull.

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