In the Skin of a Lion Review

by blairesmith

Although Michael Ondaatje has won awards for his writings, In the Skin of the Lion does not meet the expectations set by his other pieces, such as The English Patient. The book follows Patrick Lewis, a main character, in his journey from childhood to adulthood. He moves to Toronto, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, which becomes the main setting for the plot. His character helps in some of the shaping of the city and aspects of Canadian history are included in, and are in fact vital to the development of the story.

The book opens with a quote by John Berger, “Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one”. Ondaatje takes this quote to heart, but the resulting interwoven stories don’t allow the reader to develop relationships with the characters. It is hard to relate to, or get to know the characters when Ondaatje shares so little about them. He reveals only certain parts of the characters lives and therefore leaves them with their own personal stories that the reader is excluded from.

Though Ondaatje’s use of imagery is incredible, this vividness causes the images themselves to become the focus of the book rather than the central plot. He develops the setting and scenes in which the story takes place more than the story itself. For example, the filtration plant in which Patrick helps build is described in great detail, even the mules used for work are included, “…remembering the teeth of the animals distinct, that screaming, the feet bound so they wouldn’t slash out and break themselves” (108). The image of the mules is very powerful yet, doesn’t add or bring anything to the story. This writing style Ondaatje uses causes curiosity and questions for the reader, but even by the end of the book, clarity and answers should not be expected.

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