Setting The Stage

by capreviewroom

By Jeevan Mangat

“In the Skin of a Lion” is a novel written by award winning author Michael Ondaatje in 1987. In this Novel Ondaatje utilizes in-depth historical research and interviews to write a realistic representation of what life was like for immigrants starting their lives in Canada in the early 1900’s. He illustrates how they associated with the rich and influential, how they were invisible to the masses, and how they felt about their role in society in the 1920’s to 1930’s. Ondaatje’s novel is a story about how Toronto laid the foundation to be the great city it is today, and the novel includes the creation of many landmarks that still exist in present day, but also it includes facts about the lives of the working class that built those landmarks, facts that we as Canadians aren’t proud of, facts that don’t make the history textbooks.

Ondaatje’s novel is told with an interesting flow. It is categorized in to three different books which can become slightly confusing at times because he changes the setting, the location, and the main characters during each book. However, he doesn’t allow you to lose interest in the story; Ondaatje keeps your attention by using vivid words, detailed imagery and in-depth and intriguing backstories of the characters told through foreshadowing and flashbacks. Ondaatje keeps you excited and flipping through the pages. Every Book in this novel has its own particular role in regards to how it takes the story forward and ties the characters together, however none is more important than Book One.

Book One has the fundamental role of setting the stage for the rest of the novel and determines the type of relationship we have with the characters throughout the rest of the collection. Book One details the early years of Patrick Lewis’s life and the accidental death of his father. Its  purpose is to display to us why Patrick takes the action he takes, why he leaves his profession to search for Ambrose Small, why he has a vendetta with the rich and affluent and why he always leads with his heart. Without Book One it is difficult to understand any of the main characters fully, and many of their actions would seem vicious and criminal, however because you have an understanding of their backstories you learn to sympathizes rather than judge and possibly even have a sort of invested interest in their far from appropriate acts.

All of these books come together to make one great novel and each book is dependent on the other. Ondaatje also has written other very popular novels and the most popular being “The English Patient”. “In The Skin of the Lion” is a prelude to the “The English Patient” it will be interesting to see how Ondaatje has utilized “In the Skin of the Lion” to set the stage for his sequel novel which includes many of the same characters from “In the Skin of a Lion”.  

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