You people know how I feel about last names. Ondaatje. Say it with me now: Ooooooondaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatje. Brilliant.
Ermkay…this is one of those books that you’re reading, and you know it’s this incredible piece of art, BUT you know that it’s way over your head. And so you’re toddling along trying to get lost in the story, but the method of telling doesn’t facilitate lost-getting, and you’re having to concentrate really hard because there aren’t always dialogue tags or even quotation marks when people are talking, and characters just sort of appear without being introduced, as though they had only just walked out of the room and were coming back in.
So really my whole plot summary will just be speculation. Hana is a nurse left over from WWII who has opted to stay behind in an old villa-turned-hospital to care for a patient burned beyond recognition. She is eventually joined by an old family friend (who is also a spy! And a thief!) and a Sikh bomb defuser. What an eclectic batch. Hana and the Sikh become lovers, the spy/thief suspects the patient of being a spy as well and…kind of that’s it.
And the whole thing really is quite lovely. In one of my CW classes, our ridiculously talented prof Andrea MacPherson (hi Andrea!) put together a course pack of brilliantly-executed opening chapters. One the one hand, this was the awesome because she chose from such a wide variety of styles, and on the other hand it was the suck, because we ended up reading twenty or so opening chapters, and there was no rest-of-the-book beyond them.
The English Patient was one of the opening chapters she chose (durrr, otherwise that whole anecdote was useless), and it’s like….not crystal (with its connotations of clarity), but if something were to be as fine and delicate as crystal while also being incredibly hazy. Gauze? The whole book is this beautiful swirly mess, and pages passed where I wasn’t sure what was happening.
I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. I keep picking it up and flipping through it as though I expect the pages to tell me something. Out loud.
Seven caterpillars? I’m Ron Burgandy?
And that is my thirteenth and final book for the Great Canadian Challenge, with one day to spare. Join me in December when My Year of Reading Dangerously becomes My Month of Reading Very Quickly.