Along with being an active designer and famous author, Douglas Coupland can be described as a man with a vivid imagination. Or, at least how I can begin to describe him with regard to JPod, a novel written by Coupland and later published by Random House of Canada during 2006. Creating real life, but not at all typical situations for his characters, readers are taken on a long journey in just over five hundred pages. Narrated by main character, Ethan Jarlewski, Coupland tells a story of the reoccurring individuals in Jarlewski’s life; his co-workers, family and close friends, along with their not-so every day dilemmas. Described by my classmates as “annoying” or “difficult to pay attention” to, I could not help but disagree, as JPod kept me fully entertained from page one. Coupland’s sense of humor effortlessly translated to his writing urging me to continue flipping each page, allowing the book to fully consume my day. Yes, I can easily agree that perhaps Coupland’s storyline was a tad unrealistic; Jarlewski’s mother killing and burying a man she had a relationship with, his brother smuggling illegal immigrants into Canada, his father with a secret younger girlfriend, or his boss being kidnapped and brought to China, aren’t mainstream problems an average man would face in a short time period – let alone during a life time. But I can honestly say; I don’t think Coupland was aiming for an average novel. Based at a Vancouver video gaming company, Coupland exposed his readers to an online feel his characters were more than likely experiencing. Theoretically spamming the novel with their junk mail and time-wasting pages filled with useless numbers, Coupland added a modern twist to what could have been a standard novel, allowing his work to be extremely unique. Separating the novel into three parts, Coupland is able to expand his story in terms of time, fast-forwarding through to the future when need be. Critics would say Coupland could also be viewed as selfish towards the end of the novel by adding himself as a character into Jarlewski’s fictional life. This egotistic act by Coupland tops off an unrealistic novel with an even more impractical (but highly enjoyable) ending. I would recommend JPod to folks of all ages. Tactfully flowing from page to page with ease, readers are taken into the lives of each character while staying in the comfort of their own home.
Douglas Coupland’s JPod, Ethan Jarlewski and his five co-workers work for a Vancouver gaming and software developer in a pod of cubicles that is their home for 14 hours of the day. Their pod is their team within the company; the half dozen of them thrown together by the incidence that all of their last names begin with the letter “J.” They do as little work as possible, and revolt against the marketing directors wishes to insert a turtle into their skateboard game by spending their time surfing the net for shocking things, writing up descriptions to sell themselves on eBay, freezing office items with liquid nitrogen, and adding a secret Ronald McDonald to the video game. Ethan’s home life is just as strange; his mother has a successful marijuana growing operation in the family basement, his father is trying to break into the movie business and has an affair with Ethan’s old classmate, and his brother is into get-rich-quick schemes which include smuggling Chinese immigrants.
Throughout the novel Ethan is called upon by both his family members and his pod members for help, whether it be to help bury a dead biker or house illegal people in his own apartment. He therefore appears to act as a unifying force that unknowingly holds together the complicated lives of the people around him. One character whose existence surprises the reader is Coupland himself, who appears at various points in the novel. This introduction of the author by the author in a work of his own novel seems to be a somewhat of a joke by a writer who enjoys them. Another interesting occurrence in the novel is the use of seemingly random pages filled with words and numbers that makes the reader unsure as to their significance in the otherwise straightforward story. Although these situations are surprising and to a great extent unheard of, Coupland is probably one of the few writers that could pull it off effectively.
Moreover, Coupland accurately depicts the dialogue of the early 21st century cubicle worker, the feelings of desolation mixed with irony. “All ideas are stillborn. The air smells like five hundred sheets of paper. And then it’s another day.” However, this is definitely not your typical novel, and therefore it is difficult to know if it would be accepted by all readers. Fans of Coupland will be pleased with JPod’s twists and deceivingly simple story lines, along with the mysterious pages with questionable relevance. Some readers, on the other hand, may be offended by Coupland’s depiction of 21st century workers and others will spend much of the book not really knowing what is going on. It is definitely not a book without risk, however Coupland’s innovation and unique style makes it an interesting and worthwhile read.
In the novel “In the skin of a lion”, written by a Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, a romantic, adventurous, imaginative, and historic novel, where the reader follows the life of Patrick Lewis. This novel is separated into three different parts where it makes it difficult for the reader to follow and understand while reading the novel. The novel starts off with Patrick’s child life living in Ontario where he learns and follows his father’s views and his neighborhood, in which will soon be a part of his future. Years later we find Patrick in the city of Toronto during the years of 1920’s where we learn more about his life, where he falls in love with Clara Dickens (in which she is already taken), works extremely hard labor jobs and dealt with prison. Throughout novel, Ondaatje builds a great image of what life was like during the 1920’s by exploring through the challenges that Patrick has to deal with throughout the novel.
Michael Ondaatje wrote this book differently, as mentioned above on how he separates the novel into three different stories. It can become difficult to understand after finishing one story and moving on to the next story of the book because the novel was not in a consistent time frame. Ondaatje made it difficult a bit because he wanted the reader to fit the pieces together from all three parts and putting it as a whole in order to understand the novel and being able to discovery his intentions.
This novel consist a lot of “imagery” because he wrote the book well and descriptive for the reader to imagine what life was like during the 1920’s in relations to what the work field was like, the economy, or even getting a good sense of what Patrick is going through with this complicated relationships with Alice Gull and Clara Dickens. I found that Ondaatje choices of words were great and descriptive which help me to create many scenes in my mind as I read the novel.
What struck me the most after reading this novel was one of the main points Ondaatje was trying to reach out to his readers. During the course of the novel, many people died while working on the bridge and this is where he wanted to show us of how important people are. In our society, everything we have could not have existed if it weren’t for those gave their contributions for our society. People have died for us, and I think we just have to think about it, respect, and appreciate the things that they worked hard for, building up what we see in our world as it is today.
Michael Ondaatje’s, In the Skin of a Lion, is nothing short of brilliant. An expose of the migrant condition, a novel caressed by imagery and poetry, the perfect blend that keeps one longing for more. It is one of the few novels that I was actually eager to finish. Not because I was forced to but because I couldn’t get enough of Ondaatje’s euphemistic poetry and striking details. Like a lucid dream, you’re brought into this unfamiliar world where there is a defined lined between rich and poor. Where blood, sweat and tears are poured into not only the physical labour, the Viaduct but into the labor of love, Clara. “Here they had pushed in frenzy, sexual madness. He finds the faint impression of her backbone on the white paint.” One of my favourite quotes, wrapped with the sensuality in both Ondaatje’s language and details you can’t help but close your eyes and picture yourself there, right in that moment.
The Characters that Ondaatje draws upon are so passionately and intimately made. Their pain, desires and actions are laid out so delicately. Reading the novel feels like one is watching a silent film. His vignette like scenes unravels in my mind as I anticipate the next scene, the next breath, and the next touch. The setting of Ondaatje’s, In the Skin of a Lion, takes place in Toronto in the 1920s. His description of the Bloor Street Viaduct and the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant focuses heavily on the lives of the immigrant workers that toiled day and night for years. He describes these structures so vividly, drawing upon his research and time spent in the archives of the City of Toronto.
The book is broken down into sections. Book one with, Little Seeds, The Bridge and The searcher. Book two with, Palace of Purification and Remorse and book three with Caravaggio and the Maritime Theatre. Ondaatje allows Patrick Lewis, one of the main characters, to develop from a boy into a man throughout the sections. The tittles are little insights into the future of the characters and plot. “Perhaps it was an exceptional puppet of cloth as opposed to an exceptional human being.” Ondaatje has this way of challenging the boundaries between genres and states of being, giving animation to a variety of inanimate objects throughout the novel.
The one thing I was dissatisfied with was the ending. I felt like there should have been something else. It ends with, “lights, he said”. It felt like the book just went right back to the start. I was left longing for more, but an exceptional read to say the least. This is a book for those who enjoy reading for reading’s sake.
In the skin of a lion, by Michael Ondaatje, is a novel that takes you into the life and along the eventful journey of the immigrants in Canada in the early 1900-1930’s. This fictional narrative captures the emotional and physical hardships that these settlers endure to help build their cities. It tells the story of characters Patrick Lewis and fellow immigrants and explores their lives as they sacrifice much of their time and efforts, sometimes even their lives, to build such historic monuments as Toronto’s Harris Water Treatment Plant and the Prince Edward Viaduct. It follows his life from childhood to adulthood and gives an in depth look into his intimate relationships. Throughout the novel the reader is introduced to many characters varying from Patrick’s family to his future lovers.
Ondaatje illustrates his story though the excellent use of captivating imagery. He establishes this visual theme beginning on the very first page, “he can see two or three lanterns between the soft maple and walnut tree. He hears their boots on gravel. Thirty loggers, wrapped up dark, carrying axes and small packages of food which hang from their belts…Already they seem exhausted, before the energy of the sun.” He continues to embed the settings into the readers mind throughout the entire novel. Ondaatje engages the reader using many elements of setting that appeal to all the senses. Through these techniques the reader has no choice but to leave their surroundings and surrender to those of the book.
The novel starts out with young Patrick growing up admiring the older men in his community and shadowing his father as much as possible. He acquires the skills necessary to join his father’s trade as a dynamiter. He is later brought to Toronto where he uses these skills to do unpleasant work digging and blasting tunnels on the Harris Water Treatment Plant. Throughout this story Patrick is involved in a number of relationships with several characters, both friendly and intimate. Ondaatje harnesses the powerful feelings of passion and love to intensify the relationships between his characters, “Her hand came up to his face again, her fingers feeling his skin, the flesh on his cheeks.” A few of the characters come and go throughout the story, but they are never far away.
Michael Ondaatje is an amazing well known author and he wasted no talent writing this book. This novel has won many awards including the 1988 City of Toronto Book Award, 2002 Canada Reads Competition, and was a finalist for the 1987 Ritz Paris Hemingway Award. His methods for creating intense visuals and an intimate relationship with the reader are unforgettable, and are something that should definitely be experienced.
Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion is a novel revolving around love and romance, conflict and mystery set in the developing city of Toronto based in the 20’s and 30’s. Ondaatje mixes a blend of fact and fictional characters whose lives and stories come to life through poetry and a beautiful sense of realism and visualization. We are immersed into the minds of immigrants who built the city concentrating on Patrick Lewis, who grew up on a Canadian farm, later moving to Toronto. Feeling lost in his own “home” he soon realizes that he is surrounded by foreign men and women making up the politically powerful, bridge and tunnel builders, a millionaire who has mysteriously disappeared, thieves, lovers and friends.
The characters in this story are passionately drawn out for the reader yet not overly analyzed. Through the different sections of the novel from “Little Seeds” to “Maritime theatre” Ondaatje takes us into the minds of the characters and lets us into their lives by the use of illusion. The way he describes the workers in the tunnels, the men building the bridge and the romance between two lovers lets the reader feel and live within the character in times of conflict and struggle.
As we follow Patrick Lewis from being a young boy and maturing into a man we discover real passion, romance and struggle which are occurring themes in this novel. The idea of romance revolves around the character Clara Dickens, who is described to be the “perfect women” and a “rare lover” in the section “The Searcher”. Ondaatje depicts the character of Clara Dickens to be very desirable and beautiful, but in the novel he describes her as a typical woman; however, with the use of language and imagery, he allows the readers to believe that she is really this perfect human being.
Ondaatje captures the raw emotions and struggling conflict with the use of poetry and visualization. This novel is beautifully written with the lack of linear structure which kept me interested and focused on the stories of his characters. Romance was not confined to just love scenes but really was portrayed within the passion and conflict between Patrick and the rest of the characters. I would highly recommend In the Skin of a Lion to anybody who wants to immerse themselves into history, poetry and romance. Dig yourself into raw emotion of those who devoted their time in building what Toronto is today.
Word count: 410
The Capilano Review 3.12
Meredith Quartermain’s Collective Work;
‘The Not of What She Didn’t Know’
In today’s ever increasing online society of Twitter and blogging communities where it has become commonplace for anybody to be an ‘author’ several times a day in two hundred characters or less there is a struggle for space and people’s time. In the same way that newspapers use reactionary headings to draw potential customers in, it has become the norm to use excessively emotionally titles or infobursts to gain a reader’s attention in attempt to simply have a voice; for what is a writer without a reader?
I spend my days opening boxes and placing books on shelves. Occasionally someone out in Toronto gets a book classification wrong and a history book winds up in cooking. The interesting thing about A Small Place is that it is hard to, well, place. You could put it into travel.
Lodge it in the section right between the Lonely Planet and Rick Steves and you might do alright. The problem is anyone looking to visit the place flipping through the first few pages might be turned right off. Put it with the travel pectorals? No probably not. The picture are faded and washed out. Plus there is only four of them so it won’t quite work out. Although the picture in this book could probably tell you more about the place than anything else on the shelf, if you are willing to look. So how about history? Well no that won’t do either. The small little vignettes of island life and tourist life might classify but there is one small problem. Your average history book 500-1000 pages of hard cold facts. At just over 80 pages A Small Place might get dwarfed really fast.
Fiction? No there is nothing remotely fictional about the subject matter within the book. If anything the book it almost too honest and truthful to the point of uncomfortably. What about the business section you ask? Well as a study on the impact of tourism on a community and livelihood you might have a point. Most business books are about making money fast or currently surviving an economic downturn however and A Small Place lacks the numbers and equations to do so. Maybe in the teen section then? Well you need to ask yourself a few questions first. Does it contain Vampires? Dragons? Cliquey teenage girls? Is it based of a recent television show on the WB? If you didn’t answer yes to any of those questions then I don’t think the teen section is the best place for your book. What about the Computers section? You are joking right? Although stranger things have happened. I think I have the section for you in the end. Cultural studies. There is no question this book looks at two distinct classes of people. There is the gaudy over fed tourist and the exploited island inhabitant and how their interactions affect each other. And though you now find yourself in the same section as Nome Chomsky or Naomi Kline I think the things you have to say about the impact of ignorance on a culture fits right in. so enjoy your new found home. That is until someone comes along and decides you would sell better in cooking.