Thursday 10 July 2008

In a Bomb-Blasted World: The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning The English patient (1992) is a post-modernist, post-colonialist, novel that has been widely read, and it has been made into a successful film.

Ondaatje is a lyrical writer who works by juxtaposing vividly imagined scenes in ways that resonate beyond the usual time-sequences of linear narrative. The English patient is set largely in a bombed Renaissance villa as the Allies advance through Italy in the second World War. Four characters—the English patient (burned beyond recognition), Hana (a Canadian nurse who looks after him), Caravaggio (a Canadian career thief and spy), and Kip (a Sikh bomb-disposal expert)—gather at the villa. Can they, together, repair or at least compensate for the individual damage each has suffered? The broader subject of the novel is European violence and its implications for the larger world.

The more I think about this book, the more I think it is really good: and the best post-modernist novel I have read. I wrote a review of it for the members of a graduate class I taught on the psychology of narrative literature. The review explores the novel's themes, puzzles, and structure. You can access it by clicking here.

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