In The Skin of a Lion

679772669“Bristling with intelligence and shimmering with romance, this novel tests the boundary between history and myth. Patrick Lewis arrives in Toronto in the 1920s and earns his living searching for a vanished millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. In the course of his adventures, Patrick’s life intersects with those of characters who reappear in Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning The English Patient.

The back cover blurb is a bit of a review in itself, but not much of a give away on the plot or characters. Ondaatje’s novel provides insight into the life of immigrants in Canada during the early 20th century and takes the reader on a fragmented journey through memory and place. Multiple story lines and focalisations create a jigsaw of a narrative that unfolds itself slowly unravelling unique and in-depth personas. The novel explores the nature of memory and the recording of history, change – social and otherwise, violence, love and dreams. In addition, postcolonial themes such as voicelessness, power and issues of identity and nationality are also strong undercurrents. Another enchanting and poetic novel by Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of the Lion is actually on the HSC prescribed text list for Advanced Module B.

4stars

MA

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Pyjamas_060103092851541_wideweb__300x439“Berlin 1942. When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.”

John Boyne has created a beautiful and haunting depiction of a child’s life during World War II. As a young boy, the protagonist’s limited understanding of such a horrific event provides unexpected insight into the Holocaust and extreme racial persecution. It poignantly questions what makes us human, explores the nature of innocence and reveals the senselessness of prejudice.

3stars

PG

The English Patient

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“The final curtain is closing on the Second World War, and Hana, a nurse, stays behind in an abandoned Italian villa to tend to her only remaining patient. Rescued by Bedouins from a burning plane, he is English, anonymous, damaged beyond recognition and haunted by his memories of passion and betrayal. The only clue Hana has to his past is the one thing he clung on to through the fire – a copy of The Histories by Herodotus, covered with hand-written notes describing a painful and ultimately tragic love affair.”

Michael Ondaatje is a poet and visionary. He unravels this non-chonological tale in wisps of dynamic and haunting language, draws a vivid landscape through words and delves deeply into the lives and souls of the integral characters. The English Patient is at once a tragic love story as well as an exploration of the human need for meaning and acceptance. Being Ondaatje, it also questions nationality and identity through the disparate backgrounds of the characters brought together by the villa. Beautiful, but also a slightly challenging read.

4stars

 

MA

The Blind Assassin

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The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassinit is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist. Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.”

Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize winner is a clever multi-layered story within a story within a story. She seamlessly slips between concurrent plot lines and devises characters that are both believable and intriguing. Against the backdrop of significant events of the 20th century in Canada, Atwood explores poignant themes of  love, duty, humility, strength, youth and maturity, family dynamics and the the nature of memory. A brilliantly woven tale of human passion, weakness and the desire to be heard.

4starsMA

The Pillars of the Earth

Pillars-Of-The-EarthThere is a reason that Ken Follett’s masterwork The Pillars of the Earth has been made into a mini-series and topped best seller lists; it is amazing.  This novel transported me into medieval life as no other work of fiction has previously. Follett provides a fresh new perspective on the building of cathedrals and the men of power and men of  service who lusted and laboured for dichotomous pursuits surrounding their construction.

The real driver of this story however, is the character development. The characters who populate its pages are finely crafted; unassuming heroes you will adore, villains you will despise and across it all a sense of reality that doesn’t hold back. Do yourself a favour, read this book. (It should be noted that I read this novel while travelling Europe and visiting many cathedrals, as such my affinity with the content may be slightly biased.)5starsMA