In the Skin of a Lion Review

by janinemalahoff

“In the Skin of a Lion” by Michael Ondaatje is a novel about one man’s journey and his relationships along the way. Using detailed descriptions of all the characters and their surroundings, Ondaatje creates a web of sensory and emotional detail that gives this book its meaning. Though Patrick Lewis is the main character, it is his love and interactions with all of the other characters that eventually gives us a picture of who he is, leaving us with the central theme of this novel that our lives are shaped by the people around us.

Patrick is raised in the small village of Bellrock, by a dynamiter father. He learns all he does by observing his father, as they do not have much of a vocal relationship. “So at this stage in his life his mind raced ahead of his body.”(22) He has not yet discovered himself as a boy but his mind is beginning to blossom as in this part entitled “Little Seeds” the foundation for his life is planted.

As a young adult Patrick moves to the city of Toronto, searching for a millionaire named Ambrose Small. In his search he discovers Smalls mistress, Clara Dickens. Patrick and Clara begin a physical relationship until she leaves him to return to Small. He then moves to a Macedonian neighbourhood where he meets Alice Gull. They begin a relationship, and then she eventually dies, leading him to burn down a hotel and go to prison.  In the beginning of the story Patrick doesn’t seem to have a sense of self but as the story progresses and so do his relationships, he begins to construct his own identity. During his time with Clara it is mentioned that “There was a wall in him that no one reached”. (71) The intense loves and the downfall of those loves that follow begin to chip away at the wall, giving way to define Patrick himself.

Through the interconnected visual and brilliantly described stories of each individual, this book becomes a whole. And with each friendship and love so does Patrick.

Word Count:345


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