The first thing you need to know about The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is that not everyone will be able to make it through the novel, and in my opinion, be able to appreciate it.
This is fiction, but I’d just as easily call it narrative poetry. Ondaatje links together four lives in a such a way that I felt each word was carefully considered before using.
In the notes I kept while reading it I wrote, “this is written to be beautiful.” I was on page 9. There are layers to the novel, but I’d say plot takes a backseat and the reader is introduced to philosophy in the form of story.
While each person in the story has a past that has broken them, we really only delve into the English patient’s and Kip’s, the Indian sapper.
The way Ondaatje flowed from present to past and to person to person I thought was done perfectly. We’d cross a time frame and somehow I’d know exactly where we were in the novel’s setting.
There’s also a quietness in the novel. Unlike many novels where I feel I have a front row seat to all the action, with this one it was like watching a story unfold from afar and only hearing snippets of a person’s conversation.
I did love this novel, but it’s not a traditional novel. If I didn’t love words and the images that can be created by a carefully considered sentence then I would have hated this.
Did that sound pretentious? That’s because I do think this books leans toward being so.
Have you read it? What did you think?