In the Skin of A Lion Review

by aialungo

The novel by Michael Ondaatje, a great Canadian author, “In the Skin of a Lion” takes the reader through the life of one man in particular named Patrick Lewis.  The author uses imagery and specific detail that allows the reader to imagine the story play out in their mind. He focuses mainly on this character as well as some other immigrant laborers. This novel takes place in Toronto during the early 1900’s. The author touches upon Patrick’s childhood and uses the details of this childhood to foreshadow the events of Patrick’s future.  The novel then ventures into the storylines of other characters who will eventually contribute to Patrick’s life.

We meet two of Patrick’s love interests yet Ondaatje does not tell the reader that they are in fact the love interest of Patrick until later on in the novel.  The storylines can become easily mixed up and hard to follow. Although it is a wonderful idea, the way Ondaatje confuses the reader makes it hard to not put away the book before it has been fully read.  He skips quickly to the future and than back again with no distinct warning.  Being unable to understand what has gone on until the end is a very frustrating component of this novel.  The character will change the direction of his or her life completely and the reader will be left completely lost. I enjoyed this book only after I had completed it in its entirety and begun to evaluate it deeply.

The reader must read carefully and be a persistent reader in order to finish the novel with the gained knowledge that Ondaatje intended. I believe he intended to show readers the transitions that this main character went through. He sets out too teach readers that the events throughout a persons’ life shape who they are. The title “In the Skin of a Lion” refers too the thick layers that all characters from Alice and Clara, Patrick’s love interests and Caravaggio, Patrick’s fellow prison inmate, as well as Patrick himself have. We read on to learn about the transformations these characters go through and the reasons why they are where they are in their lives.

A strong point of this novel is the relationship between characters and although it may be hard to understand at times, when the characters are conversing with each other it feels real and the language is natural.  The language in the rest of the novel, although not horrible, could still be easier understood if it was slightly simplified.  The contrast of romance and personal transformation that takes place makes the novel worth reading but only if you are persistent to reach the end.

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