Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The English Patient

And the catch up continues ...

What I knew about this book before I read it:
  • I saw at least some of the movie when I was younger.  I remember a lot of sand and a very dead woman.  Pretty sure Voldemort was in it.
  • It's the centerpiece of a funny Seinfeld episode.  Elaine just doesn't get the appeal of the movie and hilarity ensues.

What I know about the book now that I have read it.
  • It's apparently not very similar to the movie, although both have the same spirit and feel.
  • Michael Ondaatje is a poet and it shows in his novels.
  • It's really hard to praise it highly enough.
Seriously.  This isn't a long book, but it has layers upon layers, and the symbolism runs deep.  A lot of reviewers will tell you the book is about identity, and how people define themselves in relation to nationality, their environment, and each other.  

And I think that's correct, but that it's also about bombs.  There's a lot of detail about the mechanics of explosive devices, and I think that is a reflection of the "bombs" in the story.  Situations and combinations of personalities that are inevitably going to to blow up.

The four primary characters are in a place and time where any part of the physical world could explode at the whim of an IED.  They're near the end of WWII in a near-destroyed villa, following the German retreat from Italy, and they themselves are mentally and physically bombed out from their various and numerous wartime traumas.  Their stories crisscross with each other and explosive characters from their pasts.

At the center is of course, the English Patient, who has no physical identity any longer and who isn't really English, either.  Who connects all of the characters, past and present, and who has been responsible for more than one explosion of his own.

And then, of course, the atomic bombs that effectively end WWII also bring the book to its end.

This book, moreso than many others, reminds you that stories are art.

Final call:

Read this, please.  Not if you want a plot burner.  You are going to feel like Elaine if that's what you're after.  But if you want to be reminded of why you read ALL of the books, then read this one, now.

No comments :

Post a Comment