In the Skin of a… wait what?

by ideentoudehfallah

“An idle and selfish class loves to see mischief being made, even if it is made at its own expense” (134). This is one of the many quotes presented in Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion that peak your interest and keep you wanting to read more. Ondaatje, who is notorious for his blending of documented history and fictional accounts, indulges us into a novel that tells the stories we never really heard from the people who truly built a city. Although fictional, these stories give us a broad idea of the conditions people like Patrick Lewis underwent in the construction of such monumental sites as the R.C. Harris water filtration plant and the Bloor street viaduct.

At first, the novel presents itself in a one-dimensional manner focusing only on the harsh working conditions. We then see different dimensions develop throughout the book. We see an interesting romantic circle begin to form between Patrick, Clara, and Alice, and a third dimension begins later on in the book that we never see develop. Patrick’s character seems to undergo a complete personality change from his initial presentation as “born to be a younger brother” (124) to the choices he makes in “Remorse”. There is a huge gap in this personality shift that Ondaatje does not do a well enough job of filling in, which leaves alienates us from the character and reduces the emotional effect.

If you’re looking for a straight-forward story, In the Skin of a Lion is not for you. There are many plot holes that allow you to create your own conclusions as to why certain events happen. This novel requires two or three readings for those looking to experience the full impact, which may narrow down the demographics of his readers. Only does a second or third reading help you notice the references to earlier events in the novel that are scattered out throughout the story. One example of this reference is Patrick’s murmuring of “Feldspar” (235), which doesn’t seem significant until only a second reading reminds us that his father’s death was directly due to that same material.

One gaping weakness in Ondaatje’s writing is the lack of a clear purpose. At the beginning of the book, we get the sense that he is trying to open our eyes to the lost stories of the workers who built the city. However, later on, Ondaatje loses the reader as he focuses so deeply on the love stories and the personal lives of our protagonists. Even though the general message seems clear initially, throughout the book the reader tends to question what the book really is about, and that question is never really answered by the time we reach the end.

All in all, In the Skin of a Lion places itself into many categories. It can be classified as a drawback to historical events, or even a romance. However, there is no clear message in this story, which further loses my recommendation as a good read.


One Comment to “In the Skin of a… wait what?”

  1. I agree with Ideen. although the book is such a thrilling novel to read, the lack of clear message and kinda mixed up events dereases the appetite of the reader.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: