11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The English Patient (Paperback)
I could spend all day praising the beautiful, lyrical language that Michael Ondaatje uses in The English Patient. The problem is that it's pretty much all there is to the novel, which ultimately lacks power as its story and characters get lost in the languorous meandering of its poetry.
The worst offender is Ondaatje's non-existent characterisation. The characters are for the most part only distinguished from each other by crude markers of race, sex, age and nationality. They speak the same dialogue and think the same thoughts and seem little more than ciphers for Ondaatje's philosophy. Hanna, we are told by the author, is severely traumatised by her experiences during the war, but there is little evidence of it in her speech or actions.
It's a story about the war strangely lacking in horror and harshness, which seems to be smothered by the lyrical language. We don't feel the pain of the English patient's burns, only the beauty of his thoughts. For me, the narrative lacked drive as it drifted and circled around its central events, repeatedly revisiting the same scenes. The best chapters by far were Kip's experiences in the bomb disposal unit where tension and drama were finally allowed to break through the language. But it wasn't enough to redeem the rest of the book for me.