Colin McKay Miller's Reviews > The English Patient

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
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Oct 14, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: novels, cant-remember-well-enough-to-review
Recommended for: Fans of penis "sleeping like a sea horse" descriptions
Read in November, 2008

Everyone hates at least one classic. Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient was the book that first did it for me.

I’m not always fair when it comes to one-star reviews, but if I’m stopping shy of anonymous Amazon slams I figure I’m not doing all that bad. Still, I’ll try to be as fair as possible to The English Patient.

The novel is set in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. The nameless English patient is a burned invalid who unites the other characters—his worn out nurse, Hana; the maimed spy/thief, Caravaggio; and the Indian sapper/bomb disarmer, Kip—in strange ways. There are mysteries and love triangles and all that polka, but something tripped me up early:

Though the premise sounds interesting, I was immediately thrown off by a description on page one about the English patient’s penis “sleeping like a sea horse” and from then on I knew that I would not like this book. I finished it, complaining about the dialogue and the prose, but I knew it was the sea horse penis line tainting my opinion. I still remember this description almost a decade later and it still bothers me. I don’t know why, but it does. Is that fair? No, but I think I need to accept the fact that there are times when you can’t get past your subjectivity. I could try rereading The English Patient, but I think I’d trip over that sea horse penis line again and be left in a foul mood, so sorry, the heavily biased review stands. One star.
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Reading Progress

02/06/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by Nicholas (new)

Nicholas Karpuk Just for that I'm writing you a short story about sleepy sea-horses that resemble penises.


message 2: by Dorothea (new)

Dorothea I've had friends recommend this book to me but it makes me think of that actor who played him in the movie, Hugh something and he really, really bugs me. I refuse to watch any movies that feature him and apparently I'm also refusing to read any books that are made into movies in which this Hugh person appears. Strange little bias I cling to.


Laura I don't believe there is an actor with the name of 'Hugh' in it. Are you perhaps thinking of Ralph Fiennes? He played title character.


Kiri Funny, the sea horse line also really stuck out for me, but I thought it was interesting and creative. It's exactly the kind of personal mental observation that a young, emotionally detached nurse might make while going through the mechanical process of washing a patient's body -- though of course never said aloud.


Becky Yes, yes, yes! And again yes!

This is the best review I've read on here in a very long time - I salute you Sir!


Colin McKay Miller Thanks, I appreciate it.

I was at a garage sale with my wife not too long ago and this book was in a pile (along with several books I did buy). Sure enough, she flipped to page one, and there it was. The horror, the horror!



Colin McKay Miller Kiri wrote: "Funny, the sea horse line also really stuck out for me, but I thought it was interesting and creative. It's exactly the kind of personal mental observation that a young, emotionally detached nurse..."

Yeah, if you did, you might have a lawsuit on your hands.


message 8: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Maybe Ondaatje should stick to poetry. I tried to get through "In the Skin of a Lion" and I wanted to bang my head against the wall. I love his poetry though. My favorite is The Cinamon Peeler's Wife.


Colin McKay Miller Noted Ondaatje's poetry for my future eyeball list, Jess. Thanks.


message 10: by Adam (new) - rated it 1 star

Adam Good for you, Colin, for sticking to your guns and giving this book one star. I did the same in my review and have received several angry comments from the book's fans accusing me of being a cretin who clearly didn't understand the brilliant prose he was reading.

Originally I just hated this book. Now I'm starting to hate people who like it, too.


message 11: by Colin (new) - rated it 1 star

Colin McKay Miller That's funny, Adam. Have you had the guy who posts his own (completely opposite) review in the comments of your review yet?


message 12: by Adam (new) - rated it 1 star

Adam Ha! No, I haven't, but I've seen that happen to other people's reviews. There's probably more than one guy who does that...


message 13: by Donna (new) - rated it 1 star

Donna Such a relief to find that someone else hated this book! I didn't get through it either.


Reading Faerie "Recommends it for: Fans of penis "sleeping like a sea horse" descriptions"
LOL


message 15: by Colin (new) - rated it 1 star

Colin McKay Miller Reading Faerie wrote: ""Recommends it for: Fans of penis "sleeping like a sea horse" descriptions"
LOL"


There's a niche for everyone, I suppose.


Sandy Parsons Metaphors, or in this case, similes, can be really difficult. I didn't really have a problem with this one until I read your review, and that made me conjure up an image of a sleepy writer waking, smacking his lips and rubbing his eyes, and then 'hey, my willie looks just like a sleepy seahorse from this angle. Hmm. I'll have a figure out a way to work that into my next book.' Ick factor upped to 11.

The seahorse has the only male who can get pregnant, so maybe there is some metaphorical context.


message 17: by Sally (new)

Sally Wilson If such a fuss is to be made over one phrase you ought to get the phrase right! It's not "sleeping like a sea horse" - it's "like a sleeping sea-horse." It's a good phrase - "sleeping" shows how quiet and passive his penis is and "sea-horse" describes the curled shape.


message 18: by Colin (new) - rated it 1 star

Colin McKay Miller Sally wrote: "If such a fuss is to be made over one phrase you ought to get the phrase right! It's not "sleeping like a sea horse" - it's "like a sleeping sea-horse." It's a good phrase - "sleeping" shows how qu..."

Nope. Still don't care. Sorry.


message 19: by Sally (new)

Sally Wilson No drama - Sleeping Seahorse Society admits defeat.


message 20: by FoodxHugs (new) - added it

FoodxHugs It wasn't the best simile... xD


message 21: by Sally (new)

Sally Wilson yeah it was


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