The first sentence of every novel should be: “Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.”
In the Skin of A Lion was my last read of 2015 and the ‘O’ book for my A-Z CanLit project. So, it’s about time I write about it. I think I’ve been putting off, because 1) I own it, so I can, and 2) I don’t feel like I’m qualified to talk (coherently and intelligently) about his books.
And in the case of not being able to coherently and intelligently put my thoughts together, I like to make a list instead:
My thoughts about the book:
- Beautifully written, which didn’t surprise me.
He turns the page backwards. Once more there is the image of them struggling and tickling Alice until she releases her grip on her shirt and it comes off with a flourish, and Hana jumps up, waving it like a rebel’s flag in the small green-painted room. All these fragments of memory… so we can retreat from the grand story and stumble accidentally upon a luxury, one of those underground pools where we can sit still. Those moments, those few pages in a book we go back and forth over.
2. But I was surprised by how readable it was. I was worried that it would be a hard read, and it really wasn’t.
3. One of the reasons I chose this Ondaatje book was because it is one of the books used for Project Bookmark Canada. It was Bookmarked at the Bloor Viaduct in 2009. You can read the passage they used from the book here. Wouldn’t it be fun to read all the Bookmarked books so far? Hmm…
4. The sense of place is incredible in this book. I can only assume it would be more so as a Torontonian. I have only been to Toronto a handful of times, but even I could picture what it must have been like in the 1920s and 30s, as the city was being built.
5. It is also a powerful story of the lives of immigrants during that period of time. Day after day, most of them went to their low-paying, long-hours, high-risk jobs; the ones that helped to make Toronto the city it is now.
What the dyers wanted, standing there together, the representatives from separate nations, was a cigarette. To stand during the five-minute break dressed in green talking to a man in yellow, and smoke. To take in the fresh energy of smoke and swallow it deep into their lungs, roll it around and breathe it up so it would remove with luck the acrid texture already deep within them, stuck within every corner of their flesh. A cigarette, a star beam through their flesh, would have been enough to purify them.
6. The history and sense of place were the best parts of the novel. I sometimes found the story itself a little confusing. It goes from one storyline to another, and at first there does not seem to be any connection. But, I refer you to the quote at the top of my post – very apt here.
I also found the love story confusing, and felt like the protagonist himself was a little confused about who it was he loved until closer to the end (when it was too late). But maybe that was intentional.
I actually enjoyed the secondary storylines more; Nicholas and the nun, Caravaggio’s escape from the Kingston Penitentiary, Patrick’s heroic climb up the water treatment tunnel.
Further information and some historical photos:
What’s your favourite Michael Ondaatje book?