Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Review: The English Patience

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It was time for a quiet, contemplative read, and after reading Divisidero earlier this year, I was looking forward to settling into another one of Michael Ondaatje’s novels. The English Patient (I’m sure you’ve heard of the movie) won the Booker Prize (whose novels I tend to love), which made it even more appealing.

I wasn’t disappointed. Ondaatje’s style of writing is perhaps the most unhurried that I’ve found that still compels me to keep reading. While many novels are driven by a plot that includes high climaxes and low troughs, his novels remain on an even keel, and unfold almost at the ordinary pace of life. In describing this, I automatically begin to feel like it sounds boring, but the book teems with observations about the interactions between real, fallible humans that we nevertheless fall in love with and believe in, and wish the best for.

In this novel, Ondaatje expertly weaves together past and present stories of the four characters that have come to live together in a half-destroyed abandoned house in Italy that was serving as a hospital while World War II raged around it. We learn bits and pieces about each character from stories in their past that help us understand their interaction. As in Divisadero, Ondaatje isn’t out to write a fairy tale – of all the writers I’ve read, he perhaps is best at aptly representing reality in a way that captures how beautiful and yet desperately lonely it can be.

2 comments:

Salvatore said…

Glad you enjoyed this one, Nihal. It's definitely one that I go back to (even though friends make fun of me for it, thanks to the episode of Seinfeld about The English Patient). You're absolutely right in saying that the book is even and unfolds in an ordinary pace. So the burden defintiely falls upon the characters themselves, and if we're intrigued by them, then it's all fine for it to move in this way.

Kari said…

Haha, the second I saw you wrote on The English Patient, I thought of the Seinfeld episode. I think that's the show I can reference in any given real-life situation, and usually no one gets them.