Posts tagged ‘In the Skin of a Lion’

March 20, 2012

Removing the Skin by Stuart A.

by capreviewroom

“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”.

March 8, 2012

In The Skin Of A Lion: The Forgotten Immigrants | Zack Chester

by capreviewroom

Michael Ondaatje is an award winning author and poet.   Some of his  great works include Anil’s Ghost,  and The English Patient which was made into a motion picture.  Living in Toronto inspired Ondaatje to write In The Skin Of A Lion, a novel based on mixed elements of fiction and non-fiction, during a time period in the early 1900’s in Ontario.  He grasps your attention with colourful images of an era gone by; immigrants never making it in history.  But in the pages of his novel, they become hero’s, lovers, builders, prisoners, thieves and murderers; never boring and never forgotten. He details their dreams with streams of poetic phrases and describes their encounters with flavour and meaning; their frivolous thoughts of love, their desire for mystery and their passion for revenge. They built Toronto’s landmarks and they wanted to be recognized.

The main character, Patrick Lewis is depicted from childhood as being a curios bystander visually absorbing his surroundings on an Ontario farm.  He leaves at 21 for Toronto to pursue what he saw in his rural environment- new land.  He attaches himself to the immigrant lifestyles that come his way, and becomes one of the working class.  The characters in this novel are exquisitely described, simple people made to appear glamorous and many with hidden agendas which you may never discover.  Patrick sensationalizes his interaction with these people who built the city, and at times it is difficult to determine reality from fiction but he always has a purpose throughout the novel, be it a dreamer, a leather tanner, a lover, a prisoner and even a father.  One can empathize with Patrick as he is passionate and driven.

There are many other characters that jump in and out at different times in this book but somehow they all come together to give meaning to their presence-a thief that Patrick befriends, and adulterer that he falls in love with, and an actress that he marries.  Ondaatje does justice to the lives of these immigrant characters by giving them not only purpose but hopes, dreams and resolution.   He does an outstanding job of giving recognition to the many unnamed immigrants who contributed to the landmarks and making of Toronto.

In summary, In The Skin of A Lion reads like a fairytale with historic elements, but I found that there was no real plot.  It was a recount of the creation of a new world with glorified events and deeply intriguing characters.  This novel is a good reminder of how our lives are defined by the people in it, and their interactions and events shape our lives.

March 7, 2012

A realistic view of an average Toronto citizen – Sara Lavigna

by capreviewroom

In the novel, In the skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje he tells the story of numerous people that link together in Toronto. With Michael himself being a Toronto native, he takes on the responsibility of showing a realistic view of what an average Toronto citizen would have gone through in the early forties. The majority of the stories in his book centres around the main character, Patrick Lewis.  Although, we are sometimes in different points of view throughout the book each character somehow links back to Patrick.  He splits the book up into three sections, which to me represents the stages of Patrick’s life. First we have the beginning which is like the childhood stage.  The first story in the book is appropriately called “little seeds” the title suggests the beginning of someone’s life which tells the story of Patrick’s childhood.  The second phase of the book represents early adulthood this is where most of self-questioning seems to go on in someone’s life. Who they want to be, where do they want to go, and if they found out, are they on the right path? In this section of the book we are let into the hardships of Patrick’s life from him working in the corrupt water filtration building. And in the last stages of the book we are at a conclusion we find out missing information from Patrick’s life and we find out how he copped with everything.  I feel like Ondaatje gives an authentic view of a Toronto citizen.  Most of the characters in the book are fictional but they metaphorically represent an average citizen that lived back then.  Ondaatje took his time and conscious effort to seek out information of unnamed workers who worked on the bridge and in the water filtration plant.  The workers in these places were not easy to find due to poor recording and ethnic discrimination.  Ondaatje gives an authentic voice to those who could not speak, he does it in such a realistic and thoughtful way it’s hard to believe that most of the characters in the novel are fictional people.  I like this book because it gives a believable story to fictional characters.  Although, I can see why a lot of people would be confused from the chronology throughout the story.  Ondaatje uses flashback so frequently throughout the book it’s hard to tell what time zone you are in.  But regardless I found this book interesting and thoughtful.

March 7, 2012

Imagery and Theme by Chris Menzies

by capreviewroom

      This book was definitely one of my more enjoyable reads, not only because of the way it was structured, but how well imagery plays a part in shaping the overall theme of the story.  Set in the early 1900’s, “In The Skin Of A Lion” is a story about migrant workers, and the building of Toronto during that time.  At the beginning of the story (Book 1) we meet Patrick Lewis who is jut a young boy working with his father around the mills.  The narration is perfect in describing just how naïve Patrick is at this time in his life and how when you’re young everything seems fascinating. “Bugs, plant hoppers, grasshoppers, rust-dark moths.  Patrick gazes on these things, which have navigated the warm air above the earth and attached themselves to the mesh with a muted think…years later at the Riverdale Library he will learn how the shining leaf-chafers destroy shrubbery (Pg. 9).  He doesn’t think about what these creatures are doing, he just knows they fascinate him.  That’s the beautiful thing about being a child, is being fascinated, and discovering who you are.  That’s the aspect of this story; childhood is what shapes who we will become later on in life.  As we progress through the story we catch back up with Patrick later in life.  He leaves his profession and doesn’t seem to have much direction in life.  He discovers love, pain, regret and sadness; “The muscles in her hand finally loosen and he turns to look at her face, She is now resting, leaning back, gently asleep, He moves his hand from her grip and leaves her.” (Pg. 171)


The way this book was split up into “Three Books” really kept me interested throughout.  That type of structure, along with the reoccurring characters made it very fun to see what happened next.  When something as simple as how the story is laid out interests you, it allows you greater focus and interest in getting to the heart of the story.   

March 7, 2012

In the Opinion of a Canadian | Shabi A.

by capreviewroom

Michael Ondaatje is a Canadian author who is famously known for his novel, The English Patient, which later became a well-received movie adaptation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 1987 novel, In the Skin of a Lion, also became a movie; it definitely has enough twists, turns and suspense for Hollywood.

Ondaatje studied archived photographs for the writing of this novel and paints a vivid picture of Toronto in the forty’s. In the Skin of a Lion is a tale of a few different characters that intertwine and relate to each other. Thru Ondaatje’s detailed and gripping writing, you quickly become attached to each character. We meet Patrick Lewis, the main character, in his childhood in the small area of Depot Creek, Ontario. Right away, you are drawn and curious to know how we interact with him for the rest of the novel. Patrick is then followed through his life, introducing us to new characters such as family, lovers and colleagues. In his early 20’s, Patrick moves from Depot Creek to the city and becomes a searcher. What’s a searcher you may ask? “On December 16, 1919, Ambrose Small failed to keep an appointment. A million dollars had been taken from his bank account. He had either been murdered or was missing. His body, alive or dead, was never found”. Patrick was a searcher for Ambrose Small, a millionaire. From here, the story really takes off and you will be surprised to see what happens next.

What you may love, or hate, about this novel is that it does not focus on one story or event; you are following many tales at once. It’s about the hard working immigrants building away, the suspense of a missing millionaire, the lust between lovers or the ups and down of mans life. It’s about the story of Toronto; how it became what we know today. It’s about many things, which keeps you both entertained and pacing to keep up.

What’s strong about this novel is that it appeals to many readers thanks to Ondaatje’s writing. In the Skin of a Lion goes forward and backward in time, explaining everything you need to know in the end with great detail. It’s amazing to realize how involved you are with these characters and just how bad you want to know how Patrick’s life turns out. Overall, this novel is beautifully detailed and a definite page turner.

February 7, 2011

The Journey of a Life Time

by sheldonbesselink

The great Canadian author Micheal Ondaatje’s has created a unique novel called In The Skin Of A Lion that is set in the early 1900’s in and around the city of Toronto. This novel is comprised of several stories that overlap the main character, Patrick Lewis, a character that you will grow to love, admire, or hate due to some of his questionable actions. This story is not only about extremes some will go for ‘love’ and the unique journey the characters take. It is a story about the hardship that the men and women who helped create this country of ours faced. Micheal gave a story, rather a voice not only to the individuals depicted in the story, but also all those who sacrificed so much; the individual that do not have monuments or their name in history books, but those who literally built this country with their blood, sweat, and tears.

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February 4, 2011

In the Skin of Toronto

by aliwhitee

Michael Ondaatje’s “In the Skin of the Lion” is an interwoven series of stories creating a fascinating and passionate historical account of Toronto in the 1920s. This accurate description of the time period depicts Toronto as a city filled with opportunity and imagination. The novel follows the life of Patrick Lewis, beginning in rural Ontario with his father learning the ropes of his trade, until his father dies in a dynamite incident. The reader is then taken years later into Patrick’s future in the city of Toronto, where he falls in love with Clara Dickens, the mistress of the missing millionaire Ambrose Small. After Clara is gone from his life, Patrick finds himself working in the dim, dirty tunnel under Lake Ontario, one of many labourers contributing to the creation of the Bloor Street Viaduct. Throughout the novel Ondaatje introduces several characters and their interconnected relationships with Patrick and each other, without allowing the reader to fully understand the stories of each character. These other characters, a rescued nun turned actress, a bridge worker turned baker, and a thief turned accomplice, all contribute to the challenges and passions of Patrick’s life.

Ondaatje’s evocative writing creates a poetic account of Toronto in 1920s situated in a theoretical and historical framework. He is able to give new meanings to landmarks that may seem insignificant to some through the efforts, pains, and passions of innumerable people. Written in a time of mass immigration and innovation, the story was depicted through the eyes of the mainly immigrant workers, who were responsible for the building of some of the city’s greatest structures. Ondaatje gives these workers recognition in a time when they were mainly unnoticed, providing them with the credit they deserve for their labour. “In the Skin of a Lion” additionally touches on the class struggle between those who envision the city and those who physically create it, such as Patrick.  The masses of labourers in their grinding poverty are well contrasted with the privileged rich. The characters’ hardships evoke emotions of passion and frustration towards those in power on both the reader and the characters themselves.  Patrick is used as bridge between the characters and the storyline, combined through historical fact and Ondaatje’s poetic fiction.

Overall, Ondaatje’s novelistic skills provide the reader with rich literary insight into the historical development of 1920s Toronto. Although Ondaatje tended to leave out areas of the plot, it allows the reader to fill these gaps with their own imagination, making the reader curious as to whether they have guessed correctly or not. “In the Skin of a Lion” is a novel perfect for readers who enjoy a combination of history and literary intrigue, if this sounds like you, Michael Ondaatje is your guy.


February 3, 2011

Love Triangles and Confused Lions

by kristiemendoza

The concept of having conflict amongst the different classes in society has always been a consistent indication that humans believe that societies must be segregated by a system of class. Through the course of history, authority and repression have always been a constant fight concerning the poor and the rich. In Michael Ondaatje’s novel, “In the Skin of a Lion,” an in-depth sense of conflict is being told in a unique way. His story reveals the lives of the poor immigrants that are new to Canada and have to survive in the fast, developing city of Toronto in the early twentieth century. Ondaatje describes the adversities the immigrated families had to conquer, and their efforts and hatred directed at the wealthy. The main theme of this literary fiction is the opposition between the rich and poor of society, which is being portrayed through conflicts and the characters that arise in the story.

Ondaatje is a Canadian writer of prose and poetry whose skill of expression captivates audiences from across the world. His novel, “In the Skin of a Lion,” has brought much success to his involvement in literature. This is the novel in which he creates such relatable characters that have their own, personal story. The main character, Patrick Lewis, goes through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, while experiencing pain, love, and confusion.

The theme of rivalry between the wealthy and poor finally appears in “The Searcher,” in which Patrick is hired to investigate the disappearance of millionaire, Ambrose Small. The audience is presented to Ambrose Small’s mistress, Clara Dickens. Clara becomes Patrick’s lover, where he suddenly falls deeply in love with her. Only after a few weeks is when Clara tells Patrick, “…sometime after that I’ll leave you…for Ambrose” (Ondaatje 72). She would leave him for Ambrose, because of his wealth and power, which leaves Patrick heartbroken. The controversy between Patrick and Ambrose surely reflects on the theme of the novel.

Before Clara leaves, Patrick is introduced to Clara’s friend, Alice Gull. Alice is another character besides Patrick in this novel to show aggression to the rich. She has an immense hatred towards the rich, where she tells Patrick to “name the enemy and destroy their power” (Ondaatje 124). This is what Alice sets out to do; start a revolt.

Although from the beginning of the novel the reader may feel confused, after reading the final two chapters the story becomes clear. If readers are interested in stories depicting love triangles, this is the novel to read.

February 2, 2011

In the Skin of a Lion Review

by blairesmith

Although Michael Ondaatje has won awards for his writings, In the Skin of the Lion does not meet the expectations set by his other pieces, such as The English Patient. The book follows Patrick Lewis, a main character, in his journey from childhood to adulthood. He moves to Toronto, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, which becomes the main setting for the plot. His character helps in some of the shaping of the city and aspects of Canadian history are included in, and are in fact vital to the development of the story.

The book opens with a quote by John Berger, “Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one”. Ondaatje takes this quote to heart, but the resulting interwoven stories don’t allow the reader to develop relationships with the characters. It is hard to relate to, or get to know the characters when Ondaatje shares so little about them. He reveals only certain parts of the characters lives and therefore leaves them with their own personal stories that the reader is excluded from.

Though Ondaatje’s use of imagery is incredible, this vividness causes the images themselves to become the focus of the book rather than the central plot. He develops the setting and scenes in which the story takes place more than the story itself. For example, the filtration plant in which Patrick helps build is described in great detail, even the mules used for work are included, “…remembering the teeth of the animals distinct, that screaming, the feet bound so they wouldn’t slash out and break themselves” (108). The image of the mules is very powerful yet, doesn’t add or bring anything to the story. This writing style Ondaatje uses causes curiosity and questions for the reader, but even by the end of the book, clarity and answers should not be expected.

February 2, 2011

Evoking Emotion

by Jessica Brodeur

“In the Skin of a Lion” is a multi-layered piece of literature that invites the reader into the complicated life and times of Canada in and around the 1920s. By touching on bits and pieces of Patrick Lewis’ life and the lives of those around him, Michael Ondaatje takes the reader on a back and forth, even “cubic” journey as the story jumps around in time and space. The development of Toronto itself – mainly the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant – gives a concrete and historical time line and setting. The reader quickly learns that the book is much more than just a document – that it evokes struggle and hardship, love and loss, and deep feeling. Patrick Lewis’s romantic relationships lead him to meet unexpected friends and make even more unexpected connections as he digs in the past. His strong emotions – be it love or remorse or revenge – take him down a path oh which he can never turn back .

The book read in a sense like a play. The characters, besides Patrick Lewis himself, seem outlandish and exaggerated. Exact moments, even habits and auras come easily to the imagination as one reads. The dialogue is powerful and, as much as a book can be, ranges in volume. Although the setup is choppy in style, each scene is a sort of stage on which the characters appear at different points throughout their lives. In its three-part style,  a little bit of suspense is built and some surprise twists appear. Even the costumes and makeup can be imagined vividly as gritty, rancid, and often gruelling work is described meticulously to outline the livelihoods of bridge builders, tunnel diggers, bakers, dyers, and criminals. As much as these passages add to the story, Ondaatje was also attempting to immortalize the workers that helped poor the foundation of Toronto a century ago.

Throughout the book, Ondaatje scratches the surface about issues of social inequality and exploitation, racial relations and migration, but he never dives fully into a deep commitment with this. This is characteristic of his style: leaving plenty to the reader to interpret, put together, and follow up on.

Relationships are the key to understanding Oondatje’s intentions and the development of the plot and cast. Connections of dependency, love, brotherhood, and even searching for someone the character has never even met are explored. The hope is that the reader will experience the sensual nature of the relationships as they shape the storyline, that emotions will be evoked as the story is told. Poetry and prose meet in a moving way to play out the story of “In the Skin of a Lion.”