My latest read, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, reminded me just how important it is to actually read the books you're assigned for school. I glazed through it my sophomore year for English class, and two years later, actually picked it up and read it cover to cover, and I'm so glad I did. And I'm afraid I must issue a warning for any overcompensatingly masculine readers out there, it is a romance story first, a book of personal philosophy second, and a war story last as far as I'm concerned. The novel drops you into an Italian villa in the dying days of World War two with a nurse named Hana, a thief named Caravaggio, a bomb defusing soldier named Kip, and a horrifically burned Englishman not named much of anything at all. The narrative unfolds through an intricate web of relationships between these characters, gradually revealing their pasts, their ideologies, and how both of these things have come to affect their presents. Ondaatje shows his roots as a screenwriter with casually compelling dialogue, and as a poet with remarkable resonating imagery, making every word count. Consequently, if you want to get hit by the full effect of this book, it will be slow going in the least painstaking way possible. Overall, if the elements of fiction are theme, plot, dialogue, character, setting, and style, then this piece belongs on a shelf full of masterpieces of modern literature.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
February 14, 2010