Posts tagged ‘Michael Ondaatje’

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

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 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

In the Skin of a Lion Review

by spencersmyl

             “In the Skin of a Lion”, a novel written by Michael Ondaatje, illustrates a brilliant and imaginative lure of history, passion and opportunity in Toronto during the 1920s. This highly descriptive novel conveys a vividly accurate representation of this time period. In a time rich with immigration, innovation and imagination, the reader is taken through the life of Patrick Lewis. Through Patrick, Ondaatje develops a story of interconnected relations in which progress throughout the novel, adding depth and a sense of realism. In-doing-so, the reader is taken to different periods in Patrick’s life. Beginning in the hinterland of Ontario, where Patrick learns curiously from his father and the surrounding of his home town, in which he will later put to use. He then finds himself years later in the city of Toronto, where he finds love and romance with the already taken Carla Dickens, working hard labour jobs, lost for the linchpin of love, arson, and prison. From these challenges that Patrick faces throughout the novel, Ondaatje is able to construct a literary discourse that displays an environment tantamount to that of 1920s.

                 It is the descriptive writing of Ondaatje that truly brings the mood of the 1920s to the reader. Scoping from long in depth passages to the laconic structure of sentences is how Ondaatje is primarily able to develop his novel in such a way that displays the decade in an elegant and intrinsic way. He intricately describes the historical beauty of Toronto through the hard, bitter, and demanding work of the largely immigrant working class. These people who built the city through the visions of others went largely unrecognized with little historical documentation in real life. What Ondaatje does is he creates a world using Toronto’s historical infrastructure, such as the Bloor Street Viaduct, and gives these workers a sense of background and depth. Without the labour from these workers it would have been impossible to have Toronto where it is today, and Ondaatje offers genuine tribute to these workers by representing them through the mood and theme of his novel, using Patrick as his vehicle.

            Throughout the whole novel the reader will not be disappointed with Ondaatje’s literary prowess of his poetic and novelistic skills. As he seemingly under develops parts of the plot, it allows the reader to fill in the gaps with their imagination, creating a somewhat hybrid vision of both Ondaatje and the reader. Ondaatje, in the bigger picture, gives sense of meaning and story to the historical development of Toronto in the 1920s. If you as a reader enjoy a poetic and novelistic contrast of history, passion and opportunity then Michael Ondaatje’s “In the Skin of a Lion” is your next read.

February 2, 2011

Ondaatje’s passionate writing of In the Skin of a Lion

by jsimak

The development of Canadian cities and their infrastructure in the early 20th century was heavily dependent on the labour market made up mainly of European immigrants. This was no different in the up and coming lively city of Toronto.

Michaeal Ondaatje takes the reader through these exciting and perilous times of new Toronto in the novel In the Skin of a Lion. As a third person narrative Ondaatje utilizes his talent of embroidering striking imagery and effortless poetry; that surround the main character of Patrick Lewis throughout the novel.

read more »

February 2, 2011

In the Skin of a Lion

by giannabasso

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.

February 2, 2011

Deliberate Confusion

by jessicamethven

In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje is a historical novel set in Toronto during the early 20th century. The main character, Patrick Lewis is introduced as a young boy. The next chapter Patrick appears, he has reached adulthood and has taken on the job of a searcher. He is in search of Ambrose Small, a missing millionaire. Along his journey he falls in love with various women who are connected to one another. Patrick finds himself working a variety of different jobs throughout his life time. His battle with love is a reoccurring theme that is tested at the end of the novel.

There is a sense of confusion during the first part of the book, leaving the reader to feel lost. Ondaatje forces the reader to trust everything will come together and eventually make sense; even though some chapters seem to be completely unrelated. This novel forces the reader to really pay attention, and sometimes re-read pages because of the confusion being felt. The novel is not always being told from the main characters point of view, making it seem unclear in some chapters. This creates questions to arise for the reader, causing them to step back and think about what has just been said, and by whom. Ondaatje is able to pull all the elements of the story together and allow the reader to make connections between the chapters. The ending of the novel does not give a clear definite answer or ending, forcing you to imagine what happens on your own.

The historical references are realistic to the setting of Toronto; The Bloor Street Viaduct Bridge, and the Toronto Water Treatment Plant. Ondaatje’s imagery and description makes the reader feel as though they are there; watching what is going on. The work described going into the building of the tunnels, and the pain the workers endure with each strike at the earth as they, “dig underneath one of the largest lakes in North America,” has extreme imagery.

The sexuality is very subtly intertwined in the novel that it becomes shocking to read. The blatant form of writing does not allow the reader to embrace what is about to be said. When Patrick is a young boy he enjoys catching fireflies with one of his handkerchief, “years later, Clara making love to him in a car, catching his semen in the handkerchief and flinging it out onto the bushes on the side of the road.”

In the Skin of a Lion is a difficult read that requires a lot of concentration and patience. Ondaatje is able to create confusion, historical referencing, and present blatant sexuality in a way that ties the story together; keeping the reader wondering. This love story is anything but typical. The deliberate underlining sense of confusion forces the reader’s mind to wander. Frustration is felt throughout this novel and is continues past the final lines of the novel.

February 2, 2011

In the Skin of a Lion Review

by stefmiele

The novel, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje is a heartbreaking love story set in Toronto during the 1900’s. In the skin of a Lion was written as if it is three different books put into one. It is a novel that is written in poetic prose undeniably requires gradual, concentrated and re-readings in order to grasp the main plot, themes, ideas and character relationships. The novel was somewhat confusing, but as I read on I began to see that the book gradually developed and I was able to understand.

The novel jumps between one story and another, primarily focusing on a totally different aspect of characters lives and setting than the previous part. The novel also does a phenomenal job of articulating the base of love, romance and relationships through multiple characters: Alice Gull, Clara Dickens, Ambrose Small and Patrick Lewis.

The main plot in In the Skin of a Lion focuses on Patrick’s journey in life, the people he meets along the way and the complications he has to overcome. The book starts off as Patrick as an eleven-year-old living outside a logging camp with his father, Hazen, a logger and self-taught explosives expert, which we see plays a major part throughout the book, to the two women he falls deeply in love with and the daughter he raises despite not being his, to threatening to blow up the water treatment facility that he played a major role in creating. When he is older, Patrick reflects on his life and notes that is no longer “a single story but part of a mural… a fitting together of accomplices.” (145) Alice explained to him that it was time for him to tell his own story, even though she nor her friend, Clara did not reveal anything about their pasts, leaving Patrick and us, the readers, to guess. The three remarkably different parts in the novel are different time periods in Patrick’s life and the different people he meets and the way they help him accomplish his journey through life.

Word Count: 343

read more »