40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Divisadero
I loved reading (and re reading) the English Patient and Anil's Ghost. I'd probably rate the English Patient as one of my favourite books. I was therefore a bit disheatened to hear some negative reviews of Divisadero on BBC Newsnight Review. Some of the comments described the writing style as "juvenile" and the storyline as a mess. The consensus of opinion was negative...
Published on 23 Sept. 2007 by Garmobozia
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I was disappointed--Michael Ondaatje has done so much better
There's much to enjoy in this new Ondaatje novel--all his usual gifts are on display--but I was disappointed. First, it seems too many serious writers these days are obsessed with writing itself as a metaphor for life and all its existential complexity. Ondaatje tries to include the 'world' in his tortured literary effort--e.g., clunky references to the two Gulf Wars--but...
Published on 26 Jan. 2008 by Sophia Croupollous
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Divisadero,
I loved reading (and re reading) the English Patient and Anil's Ghost. I'd probably rate the English Patient as one of my favourite books. I was therefore a bit disheatened to hear some negative reviews of Divisadero on BBC Newsnight Review. Some of the comments described the writing style as "juvenile" and the storyline as a mess. The consensus of opinion was negative. On the contrary this novel was tremendous! I had a friend in school who once he listened to an album he really liked would not listen to it again for some time as he didn't want to diminish that first experience. I've just finished reading this book and I'm sorely tempted to re-read it now if it wasn't for my friend's peculiar advice. Ondaatje fans will not be disappointed in the slightest. This book was seven years in the making and this is reflected in the complex interweaving of numerous characters and their relationships....all held together by the 'blue table'. I think there is a lot to discover within this book, within every character, sublot and sentence. This is what attracted me to Ondaatje. I'd happily spend hours over one of his chapters. Divisadero has not disappointed in the slightest. It's evocative, deep, thought provoking and intimate. To hell with it I might just read it again now!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE MAGIC DANCE OF MICHAEL ONDAATJE,
This review is from: Divisadero (Paperback)
Some years ago, after Michael Ondaatje had written "The English Patient," I finagled an invitation to a private reading in Seattle that was held by the Canadian Consulate for an exclusive group of business executives. Upon arrival my husband and I were quickly unmasked as fakes, but, enduring the slings and arrows of whispered remarks and sidelong glances, we held our ground and remained for the reading. When Ondaatje appeared I found him a simple man in dress, humble in manner, and a diffident reader of his works. I recall thinking that if only I wrote prose like his I would strut, not fret, my hour upon the stage.
After reading this introduction, you'll probably not be very surprised by my confession that when it comes to Michael Ondaatje's works I'm like a besotted teenager faced with the object of her desire. I find his words magical; his creations dreamlike. Which brings me to "Divisadero," Ondaatje's most recent novel, a much debated and often maligned work.
In "Divisadero" Ondaatje explores the bonds of family: the family given us through blood-relation and the family we choose. Anna, is the only daughter of a Northern California widowed farmer who adopts another girl, Claire, when Anna's and Claire's mothers both die in childbirth. Born just hours apart, Claire becomes Anna's "twin." A boy, Coop, the orphaned son of a neighboring farm couple, is already part of the family. Divisadero is the story of these three. We meet them briefly as teenagers, we see the family torn apart, and then each of them continue their separate lives. Claire and Coop meet again, accidentally, but providentially.
Coop's story seems to strike some reviewers as the least satisfactory, charging the writer of having created and then abandoned this character. Coop represents the random violence all of us often face in life through war, fate, or of our own making. Coop's parents were murdered when he was just a boy, he is taken into this neighboring family, then expelled, cruelly and violently. Although he is a temperate man, violence follows him like his own shadow until Claire gently guides him home. This, to me, is a very poignant scene and satisfactory conclusion to Coop's story.
But Anna is the focus and storyteller of "Divisadero." Although she leaves home and country, her siblings and father are never far from her heart and mind. She finds her soul mate in the past life of Lucien Segura, a poet whose life story she explores as she settles into his house in the small village in Southern France and chooses his "adopted" son as lover and companion. This is where Ondaatje's writing turns truly magical. As Anna's and Segura's stories intertwine, the scenes become stunningly sensual, gorgeously trancelike.
When I finished "Divisadero," I felt such a loss, I had to re-read this book at once. I wanted again to take part in the lives of the ill-fated Marie-Neige and her husband, Roman, an incarnation of the enigmatic Coop, all raw rage, which he is unable to verbalize. I wanted again to eat a simple meal of herbs and onions grown in the garden of a small farm house in Southern France on a warm summer's day. And I wanted again to dance with no purpose with a cat. So find yourself a quiet corner in a garden or a sun-filled room and let one of our generation's greatest writers awaken your senses, touch your heart, and seduce you with this magic dance called "Divisadero."
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything is collage,
Michael Ondaatje writes in his new novel, "[T]here is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross." At one level "Divisadero" is such a collage, spreading scenarios across more than one hundred years and several continents. Initially seemingly disconnected events and individual stories are nevertheless intertwined in some way. They converge around Anna, the anchor in the narrative who brings the different segments together. At another level, Ondaatje's exquisitely written novel is about recurring themes of identity, love, loss and pain, and the potentially healing power of passing time and remembrance. Completely absorbing, I found it deeply moving and enriching. A book to be read more than once to be fully appreciated in composition and content.
A certain mystique surrounds the title; its varied possible interpretations find their echo in the structure of the novel and the personal histories of the protagonists. According to Anna "divisadero" means "to divide" and also "to gaze at from afar". A pivotal experience at some point in each protagonist's life has broken its continuity, resulting in a major change or split in their life from then on. Some inner consolidation may be achieved as time allows for re-examination of the past and discovering of similarities in others. Ondaatje uses different voices and perspectives to bring to the reader more than one linear narrative. The novel's structure also reminded me of a musical composition: across the distinct 'movements' themes are nonetheless recurring, and innocuous motifs, such as the shards of glass, can take on symbolic character in their repetition; parallels in the protagonists' lives are slowly revealed and linkages established. With each reiteration, new aspects of the story are introduced for the reader to explore.
The actual plot can be summarized very quickly. It is evidently not Ondaatje's primary motivation for writing "Divisadero". His interest clearly lies in exploring the essence of his characters, their feelings and sensuality, their interaction with others and their physical environments and finally, their ability to recover (or not) from deep trauma. A widower raises his daughter, Anna, and adopts an orphan girl, Claire, born on the same day, as a pseudo twin sister for her. Coop, son of a local farm hand, also an orphan, is added to the small family. When the girls are sixteen, a devastating event abruptly ends the until then mostly idyllic life in rural northern California. They break apart, each coping in a different way with what they experienced. "The raw truth of an incident never ends" Anna reflects later on. Claire's and Coop's stories are interleafed with Anna's. Coop's character, in particular, is expertly drawn, as he lives out the challenges of his youth.
We meet "Anna" again, living in Southern France, as a biographer, researching the life of Lucien Seguro, a little known author who lived there nearly a century ago. She has since shed her name and former identity. Her life becomes indirectly linked to the writer she studies, in part through Rafael, who was connected to Lucien in a similar vein that Coop was connected to Anna's family. While the narrative switches to Seguro's life, his coming of age and the people surrounding him, we are led to make connections, see parallels. Ondaatje's sensitive exploration of the growing fondness between Lucien and his young neighbour, Marie-Neige, is one of the most touching and haunting love stories one can imagine. Comparisons are invited between Anna's life and Lucien's. At every stage, though, Ondaatje leaves us guessing who the narrator is. Is everything written by Anna? Nietzsche's "We have art, so that we shall not be destroyed by the truth", is initially introduced by Anna on page one of the novel, and later repeated. While we are receiving signals that Anna's recollections may not be necessarily the only version of the truth, Ondaatje leaves the question open to interpretation. In a wider sense, encompassing the whole novel, there are hints of an "invented life" - to make it less painful and to come to terms with her abandonment of her sister and Coop in a time of crisis. The beginning is in the end completing the collage created. [Friederike Knabe]
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I was disappointed--Michael Ondaatje has done so much better,
There's much to enjoy in this new Ondaatje novel--all his usual gifts are on display--but I was disappointed. First, it seems too many serious writers these days are obsessed with writing itself as a metaphor for life and all its existential complexity. Ondaatje tries to include the 'world' in his tortured literary effort--e.g., clunky references to the two Gulf Wars--but in the end the novel and its concerns feel terribly self-involved and self-referential, like he's finally given into a private world just as his characters Lucien Segura, Rafael, and Anna have done. Art as an escape from truth. Nietzsche deserves a better interpretation! Second, I found it needlessly confusing. I know we're not supposed to admit this -- we're supposed to pretend that it all makes sense--but does it? Early on Anna recounts a shared memory in the barn with her sister Claire. She says that 'even now' they remember it differently. When is even now? She runs away from home and never goes back as far as we know, so when do she and Anna get together and compare memories? Also, how can her telling of Lucien's life story contain resonances with Coop's life after she left, a life of which she knows nothing? Are we to believe in magic here, or are we to believe that the family at some point reunites? Don't get me wrong, the book is a pleasurable serious read. I read it in one sitting (one long plane ride). But it became increasingly disappointing as it went on. He refuses to tell a straight story--I get it--but the (perhaps) unintended effect of his narrative stubbornness is that as the book went on I wanted basically one thing: to know what happened to Coop, whom he abandons at mid-book. You can't just create a character and a story line as compelling as this one and then throw it away as if it started to smell bad to you. It smacks of an author who might disdain his own readers. Also, if you missed Tino Georgiou's masterful novel--The Fates, go and read it.It is the first novel of the century that could rightly be called a masterpiece
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Innovative Philosophical Novel about the Nature of Identity and Perception,
Divisadero will appeal most to those who are deeply interested in identity and perception. This is one of those rare novels that successful explores a philosophical issue, much as Dostoyevsky does with Crime and Punishment.
If, however, you are looking to a traditional novel about one person or a family, you'll find the dream-like shards of this book disturbing and difficult . . . rather than rewarding. You might want to read another novel instead.
Let me take you into Mr. Ondaatje's theme. Who are you? Most people would answer in terms of their name, their associations, their work, where they live, and their experiences. Michael Ondaatje demonstrates a different point of view; you are who you want to be. You can choose to die to who you were born and become someone else. The ease of doing that is increased if you go where no one knows you. But, your perceptions will be permanently framed by your life experiences in a way you cannot escape. Witness the excellent advice to first novelists: Write what you know. If you do that, you can change who you are (become a novelist) but you'll see the world through the lens of your experience even when you shift your focus to new ground.
The primary character in this book, Anna, lives this experience. She grows up in a twin-like existence with an adopted sister, Claire, and a near-brother, the neighbor boy Coop, who works as a hand for her family. The distance between them is broken when Anna and Coop begin to want more from one another. That idyll is broken by an event so terrible it will stay with you in nightmares. Nothing can remain the same.
But what will happen? The story develops from there to follow the disconnected lives of Anna, Claire, and Coop. Anna becomes a writer and Divisadero continues in investigating her research and writing about a poet and novelist. From there, Mr. Ondaatje peels the onion once more to take you into the life of the poet and novelist and his identity and perceptions.
As the stories play out, you'll be fascinated by many sub themes such as the way that we are often twinned with another. How do such twins develop separate identities? In addition, Mr. Ondaatje describes a universe that seems to be operated by unseen hands or laws that cause memes and experiences to recur.
After finishing the book, I was struck by how much meaning Mr. Ondaatje was able to draw out of a tragic event. I suggest you mull over the same point and spend some time thinking about what has happened to you . . . in terms of its meaning, rather than just its lessons.
Great work, Mr. Ondaatje!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointing,
Having greatly enjoyed Anil's Ghost and The English Patient the prospect of settling down for the afternnoon with Ondaatje's latest offering was an exciting one. Unfortunately this sense of excitement quickly dissipated as I was struck by the diminishment of talent on display in his latest novel.
Strip away the polish of his prose, and the foundations of the plot have all the originality of a Mills and Boon classic: forbidden romance between a farm hand and a delicate french speaking foundling , coitus interruptus by a freak ice storm, rounded off by a violent Oedipal struggle. Then enter our new love interest: the guitar playing Provencal gypsy son of a thief and a tarot card reader. Oh and just in case he wasn't already enough of a housewife's favourite lets not forget to mention the fact that he's a surprisingly gentle lover who can whip up a mean beef stew with the wild herbs he keeps handy in his top pocket..... It was at this point in the book that I began to wonder who Ondaatje had in mind to play Rafael in the movie...
Even the most cliched plot structure can of course be rendered original if viewed through a fresh philosphical or thematic lens. Divisadero certainly has pretensions of being a philosophical novel. Regrettably, however, pretension is the novel's only significant organisational system. The references to Collette, Nabokov et al are heavy handed and do nothing to deepen our understanding of either life or Ondaatje's book.
There are those who have criticised Divisadero's "lopsided arrangement". Aside from the occasional failings in logic mentioned in one or two of the reviews above, the novels' fragmented structure is in fact one of its more compelling features. Life is afer all often lopsided: and in reflecting this Divisadero does begin to take aim at realism. The biggest flaw in Ondaatje's attempt to make a profound statement about the human condition is his unrelenting humourlessness. Even in its bleakest moments, life will often proffer us the succour of laughter. Colette knew this; Nabokov knew this; who knows, perhaps even 'Lucien Segura' knew this. but what is clear is that Ondaatje does not. The only time Ondaatje managed to raise so much as a chuckle from this reader was when his self indulgence finally spiralled out of control, as he (and his seriously remiss editor) see fit to compare life's repetitions to a villanelle.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb...if slightly curious read...,
A wonderful book from a masterly writer, however the structure of the book will frustrate those who prefer their novels a little more conventional.
The way Ondaatje leaves his characters `in the air` is odd....and the switch to the life of the writer from the main character Anna... now residing in his former house....while magnificently written is frustrating at times.
I found the oddest part of the work, was in the life of Coop who becomes a professional card player. This could have been written by a completely different author. Derivative, cliched....it could have been taken from a cheap paperback.
I can only conclude that this was indeed the author`s intention....his words when the other characters are involved are simply breathtaking.
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite Ondaatje novel,
I didn't rate this book in the beginning - a very subtlely coloured book - but on rereading it (several times) I've come to love all the characters very much, and perhaps Marie-Neige and Roman and Lucien most of all.
And ask yourself what it might be that the 'father' would know that Anna did not.
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting story,
This review is from: Divisadero (Special Edition) (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed this book whilst reading it as I love his style of writing. However, I either missed something, or am too stupid as I was never able to connect the 2 books within it. I re-read the last few pages a few times to see how the 2 families were connected. Perhaps someone would like to enlighten me!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Under-rated genius,
No-one weaves together disparate lives like Ondaatje. He is as assured exploring the world of disaffected America, as he is writing of French poets. His exploration of creativity, family and self-destruction is compelling. I have been surprised by the lack of acclaim for this novel - although its themes are challenging, it is a gripping read.
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Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje (Paperback - 4 Aug. 2008)