Day: June 23, 2008

A Giller Prize and Governor General’s Award winner, Michael Ondaatje weaves a story about Anil Tissera, a Sri Lankan who has studied and relocated abroad, returns to her native country as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international organisation on a human rights investigation amidst the violent civil conflict. She becomes embroiled in the unsafe political climate, trying to solve the mystery of a skeleton while rediscovering her personal history.

Many years ago, I read The English Patient. While I found the prose very nice at times, I did not feel for any of the characters or were particularly enchanted or engaged with them or the story. Like in TEP, Ondaatje shifts between narratives, flashbacks and perspectives in this book. It is his trademark non-linear prose style. Scenes are revisited more than once and dispensed later as if in memory of conversations past. Going forwards and backwards like short stories or vignettes in the novel. People in or affected by conflict seems to be a theme of his, such as World War II in TEP or the Sri Lanka civil conflict in this novel. The internal emotional life and identity affected by the external, violent conflicts, and there are many strangers amidst the confusion. I have noticed also that both books include people who have extramarital affairs and lost loves.

Sometimes I felt I was watching the characters through a screen or a gauze. I saw them move, but I couldn’t quite get the feel of them or who they were. There were a few moments, I liked, but overall, I still have not warmed to Ondaatje’s style. He introduced too many characters, and the plot suffers as a result. Being a character novel would be fine, but I was apathetic towards most of the characters. The book was slow even if it did not take me long to read. I think the book has some interesting themes, but falls short in pacing, plot and certain characterizations.