Friday, October 01, 2004

Michael Ondaatje - In the Skin of a Lion

I love how Ondaatje weaves in nonfiction. It makes me interested in the least likely things. The history of architecture. How leather is dyed. What happened to Ambrose Small. What was the immigrant experience like in 1930 Toronto.

I wouldn’t ponder these things otherwise. I have not been interested in how a city is built. I have been interested in the characters who do the building, but in Ondaatje’s work the city itself is an important character.

Comissioner Harris has a grand vision of what Toronto could be. He wants to make it a city that is greater than its myth. A shining example for the world. He is an idealist as are many of the characters. He is so focused on his goal that he doesn’t see the peripheral characters. He even mentions some of this concerning Nicholas Temelkoff.

Patrick is serially focused. And meant to blow things up. Searching for Ambrose gives him focus at first. Then he is obsessed with Clara. Then he takes up with Alice and kind of adopts her cause at her death. And for such an inward, quiet person it is strange to have him always exploding things. But isn’t that the stereotype that you have to watch out for the quiet ones because they are just ready to explode.

Caravaggio is an amazing character. I love his interactions with his wife. Get me some chicken. As he’s hiding in the mushroom factory. Admitting he’s a thief. Here I buy into Ondaatje’s romanticized view of the world. This is such an utterly likeable thief and he encounters no problems from anyone even after admitting his occupation. In fact it is his status as an immigrant that gets him in the most trouble when he is nearly killed in prison,

The women are decidedly odd. The Clara/Patrick/Ambrose/Alice thing is extremely reminiscent of Aspects of Love with the four whose names I cannot remember now. There was even a child. Alex/George/Rose/_______. Can’t think of it. Later maybe. Maybe all complex triangles remind me of that. And maybe Aspects is what led me to believe that Clara and Alice were lovers.

There are things lift hanging
• What happened to Small and Clara
• How did the silent nun become Alice the actress?

The things that are left out don’t necessarily bother me. I thought of it as looking through the window of Patrick’s eyes. Except that it isn’t a perfect window through him. And in class we discussed that it’s actually Hannah who is the narrator. Which is very interesting to think about because she does tie everyone together and she would have heard many more of the stories than Patrick. Although I don’t recall her tie to Caravaggio exactly.

I could do a paper of the things missing from Ondaatje books. Or I could do a short story project drawing nonfiction into them. Or I could do both.