“In the Skin of a Lion”, written by the Sri-Lankan Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje is a fabulous collection of stories that centre around Toronto, Ontario during the 1920s and 1930s. The stories focus primarily on Patrick Lewis, who we see grow from a child living in the forests of rural Ontario to adulthood, ravaging around the streets of Toronto as a “searcher”. Patrick’s life is affected by numerous encounters with supporting characters including Clara, Alice, Nicholas, Carvaggio, and Hana. These characters all affect and mirror how Patrick changes and evolves at different stages of his life. Whether he is watching Finnish workers skate after dark on a rock-solid lake in his hometown, working as a young man on the Bloor Street Viaduct, or sharing erotic, passionate love with both Clara and Alice, we feel connected to Patrick and his life. This is a sign of astonishing writing and character development which Ondaatje so cleverly crafts in this handful of stories.
The collection is effortlessly sewn together by the literary mastery of Ondaatje. Ondaatje fuels sexual, upsetting, endearing, hilarious, and desperate moments with incredible understanding of his characters and flawless transitioning from story to story, year to year, and relationship to relationship.
Throughout the story, many people weave in and out of Patrick’s life. Although it requires the full attention of the reader, it is not difficult to follow if the reader is completely engaged and trusting of where Ondaatje will take them. The novel is extremely hard to put down. Ondaatje leaves the reader in suspense much of time, wondering what may await Patrick next.
The most beautiful element of the novel is that by the closing lines, the reader feels as if they have sincerely lived parts of Patrick’s life; the reader feels as though they have come to terms with all that has happened over the course of his existence. This is a component that makes “In the Skin of a Lion” unforgettable.
Ondaatje should be celebrated as one of the most astonishing writers of his time. It is very rare to read a novel that resonates with the reader long after they are done reading it such as the one that Ondaatje has seamlessly provided with “In the Skin of a Lion”.