‘In the Skin of the Lion’ Review

by adamhjoe91

The year 1924 was a time of difficulty as the Canadian economy was at a halt in its growth. The novel ‘In the Skin of the Lion’ by Michael Ondaatje, takes place within that period as the protagonist, Patrick Lewis, unravels his future, experiencing hardship and adventure.

This novel is intertwined with a mix of romance and actuality as it reveals true behaviors and true realities that have been faced in history. Ondaatje sets the story in Toronto with Patrick growing up as a child following his life until he reaches his manhood.

The novel begins around the hard working men sacrificing and risking their lives to build a bridge for one greedy man, named Rowland Harris. This is interesting because it is an example of the Marxist theory of exploitation, which formulates the class called the proletariats, and the Bourgeois, which is Harris.

Throughout the book, a part of what makes the novel so intriguing is the fact that Ondaatje does not tell the story in chronological order, and neither does he explain it simply. He jumps around the plot purposely to engage the reader and to let them piece the puzzle together. Many novels just tell the reader what is happening, however in this case, the author shows the reader how everything came together, giving the reader different perspectives and opinions. I first found this novel very annoying due to the inconsistency and confusion, however once I got further into it, it became much more engaging.

Each character in the novel is described not directly, but through every event and experience. They are portrayed in different ways through the interaction with Patrick which is a different approach compared to other stories. The deep friendship and love between Patrick and two girls, named Alice Gull who gives Patrick purpose with security, and Clara Dickens who Patrick falls in love with and who encourages Patrick to open up, represents a part of Patrick’s life and how they helped him to become who he is.

The title ‘In the Skin of the Lion’ at first seems irrelevant, however there are several connections with the theme and the title. The word ‘Power’ is brought up in the novel several times. The lion being the most powerful animal in the jungle, “each person had their moment when they assumed the skins of wild animals, when they took responsibility for the story.”(157) They were all part of one plan, and each individual had important roles, which contributed to one of the several themes; the power struggle between the rich and poor as well as the value of life.

The novel the ‘In the Skin of the Lion,’ can be a simply romantic story of how Patrick became a man with a need of love, but also a story of history and the power struggle between the rich and the poor.


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