Walking through Chapters in Canada (their version of Barnes & Noble) I realized that I have fallen into the rut I vowed to avoid. Almost all the books I read last year were by American writers. There were a few British books, but those mostly fell into the ‘chick lit’ category. This year is going to be different.
In the Skin of a Lion was the first on my list to broaden my horizons. Michael Ondaatje is a brilliant Canadian writer. I’ve never managed to read any of his books, though I did ‘read’ the audio book of The English Patient last year.
The description for In the Skin of a Lion intrigued me. In this book two of the characters of The English Patient are introduced, though the books are not connected in any other way. The main character of Lion is Patrick, who lives through some of building of the infrastructure of Toronto. He works on the building of the aqueduct and is one of the diggers for the waterworks under the city. In each chapter he’s in another chapter of his life – new job, new woman (often) and new challenges.
Where I struggled to keep track of the plot in The English Patient as Ondaatje moves back and forth through time and geography, reading Lion in hard copy made keeping track much easier. I had the mental break of blank pages and the pause to take in title pages of each section of the novel. I could thumb back and forth to recheck, which was invaluable.
I had read that many think Lion is a superior novel to The English Patient. Not sure which I prefer, but this is definitely an excellent novel. I highly recommend it for an engaging plot, surprising character, and for the mood the book sets. There’s a heaviness to this book – a rawness fitting to a book about the slog of tunnelling out under Lake Ontario, painting in prison or dangling from bridge.
I’ll be reading more of Ondaatje’s work and looking for other great international authors.