Poetic Prose: In the Skin of the Lion

by tunghsin

A novel written by a poet, or a novel described as written in poetic prose definitely requires slow, intensive and multiple readings in order to grasp the main plot, themes, ideas and character relationships.

“In the Skin of a Lion”, is written by Canadian-Sri Lankan poet and memoirist Michael Ondaatje, published in 1987. This is a fictionalized novel based on the historical story of the immigrants’ contributions to build the city of Toronto in the early 1900s. Mr. Ondaatje particularly stresses about their hard work, scarifies, contributions and importance, in which, ironically were never became part of the city’s official history.

This is a three-book structure novel which I found to read more in focus and constantly curious to see what will develop in terms of the plot, character relationships and their journeys through out the entire book. Unlike traditional novels, each scene is sculpted and broken down into multiple sections. Hence, a classical poetic prose writing technique. Moreover, I believe dialogue is an important element in fictional story telling. Dialogue allowed me to interpret the characters, underlying irony, mood and tone. On the contrary, dialogue is hardly exists in “In the Skin of the Lion”. It is the underlying imagery that gives depth to the story.

The storytelling is overwhelmingly visual, accompanying by breath taking imagery and effortless poetry. Examples such as the scenes of the Finnish skaters skating at night on the frozen river or the bridge builder Nicolas Temelcoff swinging down from the unfinished bridge, catching the falling nun (the bridge links the eastern Toronto with the centre of the city and carrying traffic, water and electricity across the Don Valley). Sometimes Mr. Ondaatje’s seemingly random images are the symbols of the unknown interconnectivity of life.

No matter what type of reader you are, I strongly recommend the poetic prose novel “In the Skin of a Lion” to you. Make sure you have couple of days reserved to read this masterpiece, because I could hardly stop once I’ve started to read this novel. “In the Skin of a Lion” is a story focusing on the underlying physical labour of the hazardous working conditions and the tale of passionate love and lust between man and women that ultimately affecting individual character deeply.


One Comment to “Poetic Prose: In the Skin of the Lion”

  1. This review of “In the Skin of a Lion” is very well written, it urges me want to go back to the beginning of my book and reread it. You made the ‘challanges’ of reading this novel sound enjoyable. If I read this review before the book was assigned I probably would have been more open to the ideas/ways of Ondaatje and digested the material more easily.

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