Teresa's Reviews > In the Skin of a Lion

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
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Aug 03, 11

Read in August, 2011

A book full of sights and more, signifying much, including, and in a big way, one of my favorite themes -- that of the 'little' people, the ones 'behind the scenes' of history, the ones we'll never know.

After reading this book, I feel like I've been to Ontario and in particular Toronto during the early-20th century. Toronto is a teeming, vibrant multicultural community, so much so that the main character from backwoods Ontario feels like the outsider. Though to be completely accurate, he probably would've felt like an outsider no matter where he ended up, such was his upbringing and outlook.

Be patient with this book if the beginning seems a bit slow or meandering. You will be hugely rewarded. As one of the quotes I've marked from this says: The first sentence of every novel should be: "Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human." Meander if you want to get to town.

And as I neared the end and realized where we were headed, I also realized I'd forgotten where we started, because in between -- how we get from the beginning to the end -- is a dazzling feast, and feat.
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Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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·Karen· Oh wait wait! I have this on my shelf, if I finish the Flanagan today we could maybe do a buddy read?


Teresa Sure! I only read a few pages last night before I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. And I'm still in the midst of my 'massive' cleaning project and my son comes in on Thursday so I'm not sure how much reading time is in my future anyway, so take your time with the Flanagan.


message 3: by Merilee (new)

Merilee Yay!!! Love this one. Karen, you'll recognize some of the Toronto features.


·Karen· Teresa, it's gorgeous. The most amazing pictures!


message 5: by Teresa (last edited Aug 01, 2011 11:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa Karen wrote: "Teresa, it's gorgeous. The most amazing pictures!"

I admit that I found a little bit of it slow somewhere after the beginning, but then around page 140 it clicked for me and I am loving it. Though you're right about the pictures, loved the scene under the bridge, for example.


Teresa I marked a couple of passages I liked a lot, but won't quote them in case you're not there yet, Karen.


·Karen· Teresa wrote: " I am loving it. Though you're right about the pictures, loved the scene under the bridge..."

Do you mean the guy catching the falling nun? So is rescue going to be a theme, the other picture that sticks in my mind is the rescue of the cow?


·Karen· Teresa wrote: "I marked a couple of passages I liked a lot, but won't quote them in case you're not there yet, Karen."

I've just started part 2, Palace of Purification. My newly married daughter lives very near that wonderful building, I saw it when I visited last year.


message 9: by Teresa (last edited Aug 01, 2011 12:30PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa Karen wrote: "Do you mean the guy catching the falling nun? So is rescue going to be a theme, the other picture that sticks in my mind is the rescue of the cow? "

Yep, I love that and what happened afterward.

I hadn't thought of that, but you're right -- I think it might be.

Yes, to the cow -- and the men skating with the flaming cattails as well.


message 10: by Teresa (last edited Aug 01, 2011 12:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa Karen wrote: "I've just started part 2, Palace of Purification. My newly married daughter lives very near that wonderful building, I saw it when I visited last year. "

I almost feel like I've seen it!

I'm still in the P of P chapter, though nearing its end. This chapter is where I got very excited about this book.


Teresa Karen wrote: "So is rescue going to be a theme ..."

'Disappearance' is another. There's been a couple of those, and I've just read of another in the Caravaggio section.

Color and paint play a big part in these 'disappearances.'


·Karen· Demarcation. Finding your way in the dark. The story told of those whose narrative was left in the dark, that never became part of the big picture, like Caravaggio, he knows the world twenty feet from him, but is not part of the bigger picture, the official version of history.

I have finished now, so let rip!!


Teresa Karen wrote: "Demarcation. Finding your way in the dark. The story told of those whose narrative was left in the dark, that never became part of the big picture, like Caravaggio, he knows the world twenty feet from him, but is not part of the bigger picture, the official version of history.

I have finished now, so let rip!! "


Me too, last night, about to write my review once I wake up a bit more.

And as to the other themes, yes! And I think that last is my favorite. Just as Caravaggio's 'name' is not on his work, neither is Patrick's, though he is one of those who did the 'heavy lifting,' as it were.

What do you make of the bird imagery? The Parrot Theatre, Alice Gull, and Ambrose at the end described as a heron.


·Karen· I did wonder about the names. The birds hadn't struck me, but now you mention it, Alice took her name from the parrot too didn't she? Hmmm. Must have a bit of a think about that.


message 15: by Teresa (last edited Aug 03, 2011 12:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa Karen wrote: "I did wonder about the names. The birds hadn't struck me, but now you mention it, Alice took her name from the parrot too didn't she? Hmmm. Must have a bit of a think about that."

She did. The parrot was named Alicia. Which now that you mention it, I'm sure that parrot is the reason she named the theatre (if she's the one who did) The Parrot.


·Karen· I looked again at that passage where Ambrose is described as a heron. I don't know. But something else caught my eye on that page - do we ever find out who Briffa is? And what is with the iguana?


message 17: by Teresa (last edited Aug 03, 2011 04:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa I thought some more about the birds, but I too came up with nothing -- but for its use as an image, which is great enough -- for the heron. The parrot I think fits in with all the colors and perhaps gull is for its opposite, as far as colors go, and maybe for the drabness appropriate for an ex-nun. ?

Beyond that Briffa was a friend of Ambrose that Clara said she could've slept with but didn't, no, we don't. He's just a couple of mentions, that's it.

Clara's 'familiar'? In a cage, imprisoned, as she sort of is?


message 18: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely T, you just convinced me to read another Ondaatje. I thought I was done with him already having read his The English Patient and Running in the Family. Very enticing review!


message 19: by Teresa (last edited Aug 03, 2011 08:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa K.D. wrote: "T, you just convinced me to read another Ondaatje. I thought I was done with him already having read his The English Patient and Running in the Family. Very enticing review!"

Thanks, K.D.! And those are two I haven't read, though I plan on reading all of his novels one day. He is that good. As much as I liked this one though, I liked Coming Through Slaughter and especially Divisadero even more.


message 20: by Merilee (new)

Merilee Running in the Family is fantastic! (Coming through Slaughter, too. Think I've read them all, except for a few of the poetry collections. Love The Cinnamon Peeler's wife (poems))


·Karen· Teresa wrote: "I thought some more about the birds, but I too came up with nothing -- but for its use as an image, which is great enough -- for the heron. The parrot I think fits in with all the colors and perha..."
Maybe the parrot, that famous mimic, also has to do with the idea of identity, of assimilating other characteristics, language, in order to fit in. One of the defining moments for me was when Patrick suddenly realised that the men he saw early in the mornings in his childhood must have been Finns. When they were unrecognized they were mere shadows, unacknowledged. But naming their background brings them dignity, culture, identity.

I like your idea of the iguana as Clara's familiar, that would explain why Patrick took care of it.

What do you associate with gull? I think of raucous, scavenger, tough, adaptable. I wonder if Alice took that surname as well, or was it her name before she was a nun?


message 22: by Teresa (last edited Aug 04, 2011 09:18PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa Karen wrote: "Maybe the parrot, that famous mimic, also has to do with the idea of identity, of assimilating other characteristics, language, in order to fit in. ..."

I like your idea of the parrot a lot. Fits perfectly. And I agree about a defining moment with the realization about the Finns. Same with the excitement in the neighborhood once they knew about the iguana and taught Patrick the Macedonian name for it.

I just thought of this: 'gull' can mean to deceive (as well as meaning the person who is deceived, though I'm not sure that particular definition fits here) and Alice, of course, deceived by taking on a new identity, and also in her roles as an actress. My guess would be that she chose her surname just as she chose her first name.


·Karen· Teresa wrote: "I just thought of this: 'gull' can mean to deceive (as well as meaning the person who is deceived, though I'm not sure that particular definition fits here) and Alice, of course, deceived by taking on a new identity, and also in her roles as an actress"

Of course, yes, not the bird at all. That fits much better.
And yes, Patrick had to move. He had to step towards the 'other' communities. That is how an immigrant society works, both sides need to change.

Hope you enjoyed your son's visit, and that the Great Cleaning Campaign has reached a satisfactory conclusion.


Teresa Karen wrote: "Hope you enjoyed your son's visit, and that the Great Cleaning Campaign has reached a satisfactory conclusion. "

The visit just started yesterday (he'll be here for a couple of weeks) and I spent yesterday with both my kids and enjoyed it very much.

Yes! It is over, finished last Sunday, much quicker than I expected.

Thanks for reading this 'with' me, Karen. I enjoyed our discussion very much.


·Karen· Teresa wrote: "Thanks for reading this 'with' me, Karen. I enjoyed our discussion very much.
"


Me too, thank you. Enjoy the time with all your family. We're off on the 17th to spend some time and then be there for the real, official, with-papers-signed-and-witnessed wedding at the beginning of Sept.


Teresa Thank you. And the same to you when the time comes. Sounds wonderful!


message 27: by Sue (last edited Aug 05, 2011 05:25PM) (new) - added it

Sue Nice review Teresa. I only skimmed the discussion--might come back once I read it. Your review convinced me to add it.


message 28: by Barbara (last edited Aug 05, 2011 12:25PM) (new)

Barbara Fine review, Teresa! This book has been on my TBR list for a long, long time. It seems that I should read this soon!


Teresa Thanks, Sue and Barbara. This is my 3rd Ondaatje and I will read more by him.


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