The English Patient Paperback – 2 Aug 2004
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Haunting and harrowing, as beautiful as it is disturbing, The English Patient tells the story of the entanglement of four damaged lives in an Italian monastery as the second world war ends. The exhausted nurse, Hana; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burn victim who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal and rescue illuminate this book like flashes of sheet lightning. In lyrical prose informed by a poetic consciousness, Michael Ondaatje weaves these characters together, pulls them tight, then unravels the threads with unsettling acumen.
A book that binds readers of great literature, The English Patient secured the Booker Prize for author Ondaatje. The poet and novelist has also written In the Skin of a Lion, Coming Through Slaughter and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid; two collections of poems, The Cinnamon Peeler and There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do; and a memoir, Running in the Family. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'Masterful...a rich and compelling work of fiction' -- Don DeLillo
'Ondaatje has now written the extraordinary novel we have been awaiting from him: The English Patient is a masterpiece' -- Financial Times
'One of the most innovative and liberating writers of our time' -- Guardian
'The English Patient wears the triple crown: ot is profound, beautiful and heart-quickening' -- Toni Morrison
'The best piece of fiction in English I've read in years' -- Independent on Sunday
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Top Customer Reviews
So there's that, and that's good. But that's poetry. In a novel you need more. You need characters people can relate to, you need a reality which people can inhabit, you need to want to know what happens next. In these areas, Ondaatje is far weaker. When he isn't in the business of summoning, he is actually quite a bit weaker. The main problem is that everyone acts and talks as if they are in a literary novel, delivering crafted sentences and forever immersed in their emotional and moral worlds, weighed down with gravitas and profundity. The English Patient is the very definition of the Literary novel, the very book people who don't read much literary fiction imagine it to be and the very book most people imagine a Booker winner to be and this, for me, is as much a genre novel as a crime thriller. You can basically play Literary Bingo with this: mysterious back story, unreliable narrator, intertextuality, symbolic prose style and so on and on. Lives cannot be this profound all the time, people would simply kill themselves with the pregnant weight of it all.
However, the feeling of place is amazing; you can sit in one chair for one afternoon and read the whole book and completely disappear into that old villa.Read more ›
One of the cleverest things about it is the way that we become acquainted with the characters as they would have got to know one another: in fits and starts, without chronology. They are built up layer by layer, incident by incident. They become visible in the mind's eye. Not only that, but we see the world through their eyes: the image of Kip lighting flares and swinging in space to look at the paintings inside the domes of churches is magical - and I'm not sure Ondaatje could have written it had he not come at Western culture from the East, born as he was into the Ceylon Burgher community.
The plot is complex, the characters are complex, the prose is amongst the best you will ever read. Now and then the switches of time and location will leave you gasping, as you turn the page expecting to read more about one of the characters, only to find yourself dropped into another part of the story.
The only thing that puzzled me was the persistent survival of the patient: that anyone so badly burned could survive so long seems illogical. Aside from that, I thought it was a perfect book about loss and longing, and written with almost implausible talent and skill. Ondaatje is a poet as well as a novelist, and that is very obvious in the pages of this story.
Hanna, 'imagines all of Asia through the gestures of this one man.' When Kip looks at Hanna, 'he sees a fragment of her lean cheek in relation to the landscape behind it.' The English Patient vividly recalls the dry heat of the desert being refreshed by a breeze eventually increasing and transforming the surface of the desert. 'We had to keep moving. If you pause sand builds up...and locks you in.' This is the same desert which had just been described as: 'The grooves and the corrugated sand (which) resemble the hollow of the roof of a dog's mouth.' In contrast we experience the freezing cold mud as Kip prepares to defuse an unexploded bomb: 'He had come down barefoot...being caught within the clay, unable to get a firm hold down there in the cold water. He wasn't wearing boots - they would have locked within the clay, and when he was pulleyed up later the jerk out of it could break his ankles.' The faceless English patient wears, 'an amber shell within his ear' so he can hear the clawing and breathing of the dog. He hears, 'the drift of voices, now and then a laugh from the smoky garden. He translates the smell, evolving it backwards to what had been burned.'
This is not a book for those who want a quick read in anticiapation of a comfortable resolution. The language compels us to linger as through our senses it transports us in space and time to places and events that have the appearance of fact rather than fiction.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Found it a bit hard work. Not keen on episodic style.Published 1 month ago by Mrs Andrea Jean Stephenson
Took some reading, but overall worthwhile. Not rushing to find more Ondaatje works.Published 2 months ago by Jim B.
I gave up on it at 50% of the way through.
There may be a good story here but, if so, it gets lost in the literature - why do so many wannabe writers of GREAT LITERATURE think... Read more
One of the finest books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Tender, poetical, humane, beautiful- one could run out of adjectives. Definitely deserved to win the Booker prize. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Ged
I have loved reading this book. The prose is poetical and beautiful. I do have to say however that if I had not seen the film I would have found it difficult to interpret but I... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Jennifer Norman