Sunday, 3 April 2011

THE ENGLISH PATIENT by Michael Ondaatje

Honestly, I wanted to like this book. I wanted to so much that I forced myself all the way up to page 125, before I just had to give up.

It is focused on a villa in Italy in the aftermath of the second World War in which live a group of shell-shocked characters: a severely burnt pilot, his nurse, a sapper who is in love with the nurse, and an ex-spy, with no thumbs, who is also in love with the nurse. Could be interesting, right? Sounds like the bare bones of a good movie, right?

OH IT IS SO POETIC I WANT TO PUKE. I was worried right from the get go, because there are a lot of prepositions, which in my experience is always a bad sign. So it begins: "She stands up in the garden . . . " then "She has sensed a shift . . " "Every four days she washes his black body."

Mr Ondaatje likes a literary flourish. Let me just give you the first and last lines of a couple of sections, chosen quite at random.
". . . her body full of sentences and moments, as if awakening from sleep with a heaviness caused by unremembered dreams."
"This cools her and she likes it when she goes outside and the breezes hit her, erasing the thunder."
"Someday there would be a bower of green limes, rooms of green light."

I know this novel won the Booker, and all that, but I can barely choose a paragraph at random without being irritated. Homicidal, actually, by page 125.


  1. Yes, I agree that it is a difficult novel. Sometimes the "literary flourish", as you call it, feels artificial and forced.

    By the way, I laughed when I read that observations about prepositions!

  2. I felt a bit guilty,not liking it, like maybe I was missing something profound! But oh well - you can only like what you like, I suppose x

  3. I must confess I enjoyed The English Patient, so as with the Golden Notebook we'll have to agree to disagree - you must concede you'd surely rather be stuck on a desert island with this one than a Henry Miller, though!

  4. Oh Lisa! You speak right to my heart when you speak about Henry Miller!!! The English Patient was WAY better than that. I do feel bad. The English Patient definitely goes on my list for trying again later, along with A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME by Anthony Powell . . .

  5. I gave up on this one too, well done for making it to page 125...a rare case where the film is actually better than the book!

  6. That is so true! I hadn't really thought of that. I wonder if there are any others . . .

  7. I also forced my way up over a hundred pages but so interestingly, I was hooked to the end. So sorry you had to give up but it's worth another try.

  8. Oh, that is very interesting to hear! That can sometimes happen, I think - once you get into the swing, you can start to love a novel. I do have a bad habit of getting irritated too soon . . .