Book Review - The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
It's true that most of my recreational reads are action/adventure/mystery with a lot of movement. But I really am trying to get a bit more introspective and appreciative of different writing styles. It was recommended by a friend that I read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. In a word, wow. It was far from my normal fare, but I quickly got drawn into the imagery and way that Ondaatje was able to take four separate individuals with different stories and weave them into a single plot.
I did have to take my time and trust a bit that it would all come together. The first scene involves Hana, a fatigued nurse holding vigil over her last patient, a severely burned pilot known as "the English patient". While the end of World War II is almost there, she remains at the converted hospital, just her and the patient, amid the rubble of bombings and shellings. There's not much background as to who they are and why she refuses to leave. In the second scene, Caravaggio, a thief who's hands were mutilated as punishment, arrives at the hospital, and tries to figure out who the patient is in real life, as well as how he feels about Hana. And finally, Kip arrives at the hospital. He's an Indian "sapper", one who goes in and disarms unexploded ordinance. He's never allowed himself to be close to anyone due to his particularly short life expectancy. But Hana is under his skin, and he has to start understanding someone else aside from only himself.
Once all the characters are given their time and space as individuals arriving at the hospital, the stories start to merge. Caravaggio thinks the English patient to be someone else entirely. Caravaggio teases the story from him, learning exactly what role he might have played in the war. And via the wireless, they all hear news that completely changes their view of everything they stood for and believed in. And that causes their own shared universe to go spiraling out of control once again...
I enjoyed this far more than I expected I would. I learned to slow down my pace and just let the story flow over me and unfold as it wanted. I also had to trust that it was all going to come together in a way that was not going to make me regret the time I had spent reading it. I also learned quite a bit on how a good author can paint the surroundings with words, and put you right there in the middle of the scene, complete with the appropriate emotions and atmosphere.
Of course, now I need to see the movie version of it. :)