Top positive review
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Poetic ode to labour and love
on 4 March 2005
I read 'The English Patient' some years ago and enjoyed it immensely, prompting me to buy this earlier work. Regrettably, I buy more books than I get around to reading (I can't be the only culprit...), but I am so, so pleased that I've finally got around to reading this wonderful book...
In the Skin of a Lion is set in Canada, moving between rural Ontario and Toronto, and primarily charts the life of Patrick Lewis from the turn of the twentieth century to the late 1930s. However, the novel is not as structurally straight-forward as this suggests, as some of the chapters focus heavily on two of the three other main male characters. Nonetheless, Ondaatje hints within the novel that there is a structure, and indeed there is order and interconnectedness between the stories of these three mens' lives.
Ondaatje employs strong, physical descriptive language to honour the labours, particularly of migrant groups such as Macedonians, that shaped modern Canada - logging; dynamiting; cattle-herding; bridge-building and dam construction: the realistic and evocative writing on this range of human endeavours must have required a lot of research.
The novel also includes three intriguing, strong-willed female characters: radio actress and love of Patrick's life (despite many formidable hurdles) Clara Dickens; her best friend, Alice Gull, and Alice's daughter, Hana. Beautifully-crafted, poetic language describes the relationships that evolve over the years, and both the stories and language are a genuine delight for the reader to savour.