Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Coming Through Slaughter” as Want to Read:
Coming Through Slaughter
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Coming Through Slaughter

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,025 Ratings  ·  344 Reviews
Many readers still claim this haunting, atmospheric novel of Michael Ondaatje's as their first love - a novel as sensual and erotic today as ever it was. At the turn of the century, the Storyville district of New Orleans had some 2000 prostitutes, 70 professional gamblers, and 30 piano players. But it had only one man who played the cornet like Buddy Bolden - he who cut ha ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published October 4th 1998 by Vintage Canada (first published 1976)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Coming Through Slaughter, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Johann C.M. Laesecke I am about halfway through this book and would agree to the dark and chilling review comments. As for experimental in form, it was published in 1976…moreI am about halfway through this book and would agree to the dark and chilling review comments. As for experimental in form, it was published in 1976 and reprinted many times so one might think there should be a lot of opinion out there about it. At this point I would give it two stars but will wait till the end to decide. It's not an easy read although a h.s. senior with a mind for this kind of reading could handle it. I can see lots of room for interpretations and discussions from this book. (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
I wanted to love this first novel of Ondaatje, but I am left feeling it is like a jazz improvisation that doesn’t achieve flight enough to linger long in the mind. My disappointment feels similar to looking for a Picasso Blue Period in the origins of his mastery and turning up instead an aborted Cubist Period. Still, it was worth it for me to experience this dalliance with a postmodernist structure and witness his transition from poet to novelist.

This slim 1976 book is an ambitious attempt to br
Patrick O'Connell
This a fictional story based on the rich, the tragic, and true life of the New Orleans Jazz Musician Buddy Bolden. A historical figure of whom we know very little, of whom there is only one extant photo, and no recordings. Yet we know he eventually goes mad.

Michael Ondaatje weaves a captivating story from only shreds of evidence through a form of prose that I have never quite seen before. The narrator is constantly shifting, as is the chronology, as is the word form. Parts of this read like his
Jun 04, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, what a book!

I haven't read Ondaatje before, or at least not much, and I don't know what I expected, but the level of lyricism from page to page, paragraph to paragraph was really stunning and made this a really rather incredible read.

There are places where I have issues with it, or at least think I do (what happens to Webb, or the fact that the insanity seems so, I don't know, underconsidered-- maybe it's just me, but the link between these romantic triangles Bolden found himself in and the
Mar 20, 2009 Pierce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes you read something by an author and it's very good, and you think back over their other stuff that you've read, and realise that it was all good, and some of it was even very good, or very, very good, and you see suddenly that this writer is actually one of your absolute favourites, you just never articulated the thought until now.

I haven't read anything in a while that made me wish I could write as much as this. Not to say it was perfect. It's an early work and you can see how his cr
Feb 28, 2008 Reed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are few books that I say I will read again that I actually do (my opinion is that there are far too many books to re-read), and even fewer that I actually do read them again. This is one book that I believe will be one of those select few.

Often the heart is the one thing about poetry I actually understand. In this novel Ondatji's poetic heart comes through in a form I can relate to. Matters of genre-defining aside, this is truly a beautiful book of words and story.

I was moved and "in" fro
Apr 05, 2016 Ivana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nedopričljivi
Najgori osjećaj na svijetu kad knjizi zapičiš dvicu i onda vidiš da ispod padaju četvorke, petice, petice, petice, četvorke, petice, četvorke, pa se bojiš da ti nedostaje neki senzibilitet, neki dio inteligencije koji bi ti pomogao da uočiš što je to tako vrijedno i lijepo u ovoj kaotičnoj knjizi. No ne mogu se više praviti fina i davati neutralne trojke knjigama koje mi se nisu svidjele. I neću više govoriti da je problem u meni, a ne u knjizi.

Sad kad sam obavila svetu čitateljskoklupsku dužno
Aug 10, 2014 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In June 1907, Charles "Buddy" Bolden is 'escorted' by Civil Sheriffs McMurray and Jones en route from New Orleans to an insane asylum in Jackson, Louisiana. He has suffered a complete breakdown while playing with Henry Allen's Brass Band ('Red' Allen's father), marching in the Crescent City. He had broken blood vessels in his neck, and they had come through a small town called Slaughter on their way. These are some of the few hard facts known of the life of one of jazz's earliest pioneers, a lif ...more
May 05, 2016 Aolund rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was looking forward to reading this novel, enticed by the promise of lyrical writing and a look into the life of New Orleanian jazz musician Buddy Bolden. All I found was a rambling, imitative style (think Nabokov, Faulkner, but less tightly written), and incessant focus on sex and women-as-sex-objects; almost every sex scene included violent language and felt misogynistic. While a motif of sex and sexuality would have been nothing to complain about in and of itself, it seemed a shame that thi ...more

Now THIS is more like it. Experimental, impressionistic prose in the wild subjective to convey the surging, elemental sensibility of one of the deeply mythological founders of that kind of thing and it necessitates this kind of writing. very much enjoyed...
Carl R.
Jul 07, 2015 Carl R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Michael Ondaatje won't stay put. I've followed him from San Francisco (Divisadero) to Sri Lanka--one of his native lands--(Anil's Ghost) to the bowels of a Sri Lanka-to-England-to-Canada cruise ship (Cat's Table) to historical Toronto (Skin of a Lion) and finally to New Orleans for Coming Through Slaughter. Every Journey has been full of edification and delight.

Before Louis Armstrong and all of them there was Buddy Bolden, said to be the hottest trumpeter in all the Big Easy. He was never record
Sep 17, 2007 Jamie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Huh. There are some books that your brain thinks it should like and some books where your gut just says "fuck yeah!" My brain liked this book a lot more than my gut. Which was good, because at only 160 pages my gut didn't have enough time to put the thing aside forever

Although the last five pages were a slog. In bed, after midnight, forcing myself through extreme drowsiness to finish. Figured I'd gotten too far to give up just five pages to the end. Now I can recommend this in a pretentious voi
Jul 02, 2012 Mike rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
for years people have told me i'd love this book because i love jazz and new orleans and historical fiction and poetic prose. buddy bolden was one of the seminal figures in jazz; a coronet man who introduced what marsalis calls "the big sound" that wound church and street and blues music into what became "jass" and led to king oliver and so on down the road. buddy bolden went insane and was committed to a mental hospital in 1907. the author makes a ton of hay showing through skewed prose and cho ...more
Mar 13, 2008 Gretchen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ondaatje fans
I read this in an attempt to understand a little more about New Orleans. I haven't been. And to read more of Ondaatje, who I love. And because I was 32, a year older than Buddy Bolden when he went insane.
Set in the Storyville district of New Orleans in the early days of the Jazz era, CTS unravels Bolden's life, (barber by day, cornet player by night) his sorted love life, madness, death-obsession, and jazz. Lyrical prose. Did I say lyrical? Sorry.

"And as told in Coming Through Slaughter, his sto
Feb 12, 2007 A-ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I found this book absolutely haunting. As I've said before no other writer that I know of writes so damn... emotionally as Ondaatje. I was put inside the soul of jazz man Buddy Bolden - and his mind. This book is in turns maddeningly austere, and in others florid with intensity. Portions of this novel also have a pasted together feel, like overly humid newspaper clippings laid in collage upon a New Orleans light post. It lends itself well to a man who was said to have lost his mind.
Nov 20, 2014 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The novel Coming Through Slaughter was written by Michael Ondaatje, a prize winning author and poet. Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka; he first got his writing skills by taking up poetry then moving onto making books. Some of his creations even being made into movies, such as Carry on Crime and Punishment, The Clinton Special, and Royal Canadian Hounds.
In the novel Coming Through Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje, introduces Buddy Bolden a famous jazz musician. The story takes place in New Orleans in the j
Halley Sutton
Nov 18, 2015 Halley Sutton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm aware that I've been giving crappy reviews lately (not that any of you care. I CARE). I'm going to continue that trend. The most interesting thing here was how form fits function--this novel is a blues song in a book. Would probably not have chosen to read it on my own and it's not super helpful to my current aesthetic but still interesting.
Jelena Susak
Jooj. Zapravo je on dobro predočio to vrijeme, atmosferu na prijelazu stoljeća (19. na Ali mene nije dotaklo. Kažu liričnost do besvijesti, mene se osobno nije dojmila ni njegova hipersenzibilna duša ("Svih se bojao". -42-), ni njegova agresija, ni napuštanje žene i djece na dvije godine, ni "veza" s prijateljevom ženom (a istodobno silna ljubomora prema svojoj), ni seksanje na sve strane i prljavrština i naturalizam vezan uz to, ni taština (ljubomoran je na Picketta, zato ga je izrezao ...more
May 12, 2014 Melinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Coming Through Slaughter is a story I revisit often. I have read this story countless times, each time appreciating the writing and narrative more and more. Ondaatje is a wordsmith and his talent shines with his ability to intertwine fragments of song, faded photographs along with snippets of dialog. Buddy Bolden is an enigma and Ondaatje's prose preserves the shroud of mystery this talented musician deserves.

 photo image_zps215f8aa5.jpg

Admirers of poetry, music, history, lovers of Buddy Bolden, jazz and of course New
Jul 25, 2010 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are phrases bouncing around the summary and reviews for this book that I think are a little wrong in tone. This book is highly concerned with documentary evidence (both its limitations and its necessity in memorializing the victims of crimes against humanity, in which category East Louisiana State Hospital surely falls), poetic and fragmentary, as concerned with honoring distance and difference as with creating intimacy. This is not so much a fictional recreation as a sequence of imaginati ...more
Aug 31, 2009 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: louisiana
Buddy Bolden was the greatest cornet player, the innovator, set the music free, the man who folks like Bunk Johnson and Louis Armstrong said started it all, beat the path for all other great jazzmen to follow.

Bolden lost his mind in a parade in a 1907 and spent the rest of his life in an asylum. He had blown out the vessels in his neck with the exertion of his playing. And he never made any recordings.

Ondaatje gathers every piece of information available on this legend, and engages in lurid fant
Nov 05, 2011 Darryl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The cornetist Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) is widely credited as being one of the creators of the music now known as jazz. He was born in New Orleans and formed a band in 1895, which was centered in the red light district known as Storyville and soon became one of the most popular ones in the city (Bolden is seen with his band, standing second from the left in this 1905 photograph). He was influenced by ragtime music, the blues and music from the church, and combined these elements into a unique for ...more
Rona Synczyszyn
Aug 04, 2013 Rona Synczyszyn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My Dad was a big New Orleans jazz fan, so I grew up with the music, and with the legend of Buddy Bolden, whose playing has been the subject of much conjecture. He never recorded, so we can only guess what the first real jazz soloist sounded like. Later, I rejected all that old-fogey stuff for a while, but I'm getting back into it now, which is why I looked forward to reading this novel, and finished it fast.

However, vaunted as the best jazz novel ever, reading 'Coming Through Slaughter' came as
Feb 15, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fictionalization of the life of Buddy Bolden--the unrecorded cornet-playing genius who many argue is New Orleans' first "real" jazzman and who went bat-shit insane while blasting on his horn as he led a parade through the streets of New Orleans--is pretty hotdamn fantastic. Ondaatje is both poet and novelist, and here he strikes a near perfect balance. It's only 150 pages, but I took my time, rereading passages two and three times before moving on and reading large chunks of the novel aloud ...more
Anthony Panegyres
The moving story of a tragic figure, Bolden the cornet player, a larger than life character who (according to many) revolutionised the music genre, yet only scant evidence remains of his life and times, along with his playing.

Ondaatje's 'jazz novel' certainly reflects the jazz experience. There's experimentation throughout yet there's also a steadying thread or 'refrain', which the work returns to. Made up of vignettes, some more likable than others, the work is both wild and tame, raw and poeti
Brent Legault
Jun 08, 2011 Brent Legault rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are so many awful, awful novels set in New Orleans and somewhere, everywhere, our landfills are filling up with them, our gutters are overflowing with them and our eyes and ears have had it up to here with them.

This is not one of those novels. This book doesn't need the New Orleans "vibe" to electrify an otherwise dead-on-arrival story. It doesn't need "colorful eccentrics" and "quaint architecture" and "dumb dialect" to liven up a stiff style. It's a novel that lives and breathes by itsel
Jun 04, 2008 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Matt Dube
This was recommended to me at a perfect time (just coming out of a Ken Burns Jazz phase). I wouldn't say that as a whole this book *blew me away*, but I would say that individual sections and single phrases absolutely did. I often found myself so dazzled by his language that I forgot to think about how that particular section fit into the overall story.

I have the utmost appreciation for Ondaatje's approach and play with form--the book itself reads kinda jazz-like (multi-tonal, multi-vocal, se
Novieta Tourisia
Aug 07, 2014 Novieta Tourisia rated it really liked it
Reading Coming Through Slaughter felt like a punch in my heart. It's emotional, haunting, deep and honest. Takes place between 1900 and 1907, it unfolds true life of the New Orleans jazz progenitor Buddy Bolden, whose type is haughty and womanizing, yet happened to engage to be sympathetic.

I read this book twice. First was a couple years ago, when I just got the book, but didn't finish it. And during my spare time last week, I've finally made it. Not as smooth as reading Ondaatje's The English P
Feb 14, 2016 Regan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ian Brydon
Jan 08, 2016 Ian Brydon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book a bit of a struggle. Set in Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans at the start of the twentieth century, it promised a lot but failed to deliver.

The novella tells the story of Buddy Bolden, accomplished cornet player by night, though by day he supported himself working in a barbershop. Recognised as a gifted musician, Bolden has plenty of demons to deal with and is subsiding into alcoholism alongside a gambling addiction. Hitherto devoted to Nora, his wife, he sudd
Jan 25, 2015 Lois rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm probably one of the few people in North America who has neither seen nor read The English Patient. But I do know that dreams and flashbacks are a major part of that work. This book, written in 1976, predates The English Patient by 16 years. It has a dreamy, surreal style to it throughout. What's true and what's not?

New Orleans and its environs is a central character in this book. It's impossible to imagine Buddy Bolden and his friends and associates anywhere else. The story can't be anywher
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz
  • Homesick
  • Baltimore's Mansion: A Memoir
  • A Discovery Of Strangers
  • Murther and Walking Spirits (Toronto Trilogy, #1)
  • The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
  • The Mountain and the Valley
  • What They Wanted
  • Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
  • The Bear Comes Home
  • Small Change
  • Famous Last Words
  • A Map of Glass
  • The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos
  • Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
  • A Jest of God
  • Shuttlecock
  • Finbar's Hotel
He was born to a Burgher family of Dutch-Tamil-Sinhalese-Portuguese origin. He moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. Ondaatje studied for a time at Bishops College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, but moved to Toronto and received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's Universit ...more
More about Michael Ondaatje...

Share This Book

“This last night we tear into each other, as if to wound, as if to find the key to everything before morning.” 98 likes
“But there was a discipline, it was just that we didn't understand. We thought he was formless, but I think now he was tormented by order, what was outside it. He tore apart the plot - see his music was immediately on top of his own life. Echoing. As if, when he was playing he was lost and hunting for the right accidental notes. Listening to him was like talking to Coleman. You were both changing direction with every sentence, sometimes in the middle, using each other as a springboard through the dark. You were moving so fast it was unimportant to finish and clear everything. He would be describing something in 27 ways. There was pain and gentleness everything jammed into each number.” 10 likes
More quotes…