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In the Skin of a Lion

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  15,558 ratings  ·  992 reviews
Bristling with intelligence and shimmering with romance, this novel tests the boundary between history and myth. Patrick Lewis arrives in Toronto in the 1920s and earns his living searching for a vanished millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. In the course of his adventures, Patrick's life intersects with those of characters who reappear in Ondaatje's Booker Priz ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 14th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1987)
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Kara Babcock
It’s never a good sign when the first thing you do after finishing a book is to go to its Wikipedia page and scrutinize the plot summary for some hint of what happened.

For some reason, I always choose to read a complex or very “literary” type of novel on what turn out to be my busiest weeks. When I started In the Skin of a Lion, I was neck-deep in my unit planning for my English instruction course. (I developed a unit for Grade 9s studying A Wizard of Earthsea.) Even my impressive ability to fin
...more
Marcelo
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommended
Astounding. One of the best novels I've ever read. Ondaatje does things with language that should be almost illegal, giving us scenes that can be at the same time lush and heartbreakingly stark, weaving in and out of different timeframes and contexts with the fluidity and free association of memory. His depictions of the hard work these characters undertake in early 20th Century Canada (bridge building, logging, tunnel drilling under Lake Ontario in order to build a water purification plant) hav ...more
Khashayar Mohammadi
Ondaatje is incredibly familiar. He has the schizophrenic narrative of Faulkner and the fragmented working class romanticism of Raymond Carver. Its interesting how much I adore Ondaatje while he reminds me of one of my mortal enemies (I'm talking to you Faulkner!). His visual brand of prose-poetry reminds me more of a filmmaker than a writer. His nostalghic exploration of Canada, and specifically Toronto increased the book's appeal for me. I had a hard time getting into Ondaatje's world, to a po ...more
Chrissie
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
The writing, the manner by which the author has woven fact into a fictional tale and the book’s central message explain why I like this book as much as I do. We are given a story that is carefully planned and well executed. Every detail is there for a purpose. Even section titles have been carefully considered. The “finished product” is very good.

We are told at the start that every novel should begin with the line:

“Trust me, this will take time, but there is order here, very faint, very human.
...more
Maciek
In the Skin of a Lion is a hazy, dreamlike novel, which transports its readers to the city of Toronto in the early 20th century. This is the time when countless immigrants came to the city - escaping misery, wars and poverty that was their daily life in the Old World. The glimmering lights of the New World shore brightly across the ocean, and they journeyed across it for weeks, seduced by their promises of a new and better life. These masses of immigrants - often poor and uneducated - built, for ...more
Teresa
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 probabl
...more
·Karen·
Jul 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, canada
A full five star endorsement for a novel that has a mesmeric, hallucinatory quality. Images as powerful and poignant as a dream, narrative that slips and weaves and ducks between people, places and time, and an impressive sweep of invention that catches the breath. Ondaatje uncovers the story of those whose labour created Toronto landmarks in the early twentieth century, deftly knitting up truth and myth, revealing the lives of those who were forgotten in the official version of history.

Actuall
...more
Alison
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of intimate cityscapes and dreamy histories made vivid with breathaking style.
There is a scene, in the very beginning of this book, during which Patrick Lewis, primary voice among the the half-dozen or so protagonists, watches Scandinavian men skate home over a frozen river on a dark winter's night in Northern Ontario, carrying handfuls of burning cattails over their heads. Ondaatje, who is the rare poet capable of writing great fiction, describes the scene thusly:

"It was not just the pleasure of skating. They could have done that during the day. This was against the nig
...more
Kaelee
Jul 22, 2010 rated it did not like it
Honestly, I utterly despised this book. I had no end of people telling me that this was one of the most divine, perfectly written books EVER. What I saw when I read it was literary masturbation. I'll concede Ondaatje has an elegant way of stringing together lots of beautiful words and phrases and moments, but I don't think that that alone can make a book. Others have said they think the characters in this are so real as to make you utterly devoted to them. I struggled to sympathise with a single ...more
Laure
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Despite the poetic language, this was quite a quick read. I will re read it again though as the language is complex and there are things that still do not make totally sense in my head. This is will not be a chore as the language is beautiful and eminently evocative. I wish the plot and characters' motivation had not been so difficult to fathom at times, lost is some land of magical realism. Great book still.
Czarny Pies
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
As a parent with two sons who loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (i.e. Michelangelo, Rafael, Donatello and Leonardo) when they were children in the 1990s, I was delighted to discover that the fifth turtle Caravaggio was a character of “In the Skin of a Lion”. In most cases, however, the surprises in this novel dismayed me.
One of the major themes of “In the Skin of Lion” is to portray Toronto’s ethnic minorities during the first four decades of the twentieth century when in the view of Ondaa
...more
Fabian
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Best piece of fiction I've read this (crappy?) year. The primary feeling this novel inspires is: Love isn't the most important thing in the world. The complexities of LIFE are more profound, sad, and... satisfying. This may be a revolutionary statement, a great hypothesis, and the novel is magic.
It has so much action and so much poetry: far-flung lovers (not an Ever After, but a Right Now [Since we are human, Connection is SO IMPORTANT! ...and we all get forgotten if not for history]); water tun
...more
Marie
Jul 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
In the middle of this novel, Ondaatje writes:

"The first sentence of every novel should be: "Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.'"

And this seems to be Ondaatje's philosophy about his novels.

I read this book because we are headed to Toronto at the end of August, and this was described to me as the "quintessential Toronto novel." However, I found myself scanning pages and anxiously hoping that I would get to the end. Not signs of a good novel for me!

Some
...more
Moses Kilolo
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got through the first fifty or so pages solely because of the poetic language of this book. Otherwise I would have meandered my way, got lost somewhere, looked around for help, and finding none, tossed the book away.

I am not a big fan of so many characters, so many voices, and so much happening in a book. But with this one I remained patient. And lord I'm I not grateful. It seems that I have been richly rewarded.

This is book is set in Toronto in the '30s. And except for Patrick, the main prot
...more
Andy
Aug 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read in 5 years.

But everyone I recommend it to hates it.

The prose is poetry, and the genetic connection to Ondaatje's earlier prose-poem works like "Coming through Slaughter" is obvious. But the power of this book resides in his characterization - you come to be absolutely devoted to the individuals - and I choose that word deliberately - that populate this novel. Though sparingly described, they seem more familiar than the characters so exhaustively cataloged in much pomo f
...more
Stephen P
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it

An exalted language rendered simply. Ondaatje lays down on a wood grained table, an axe, fallen trees, a log jamb, explosives, the building of a bridge and a waterworks. The concrete tools of realism. As he speaks in his mesmerizing words his agile hands tent and curl, through the fingers arise images of a hallucinogenic prose. In short declarative sentences he calls forth the onset of a first LSD trip; the shock of boundaries melting away, the particles of the world slowed and oozing with meani
...more
Will Ansbacher
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Probably one of the best novels I ever read, better even than "The English Patient".
Time to read it again.
Adam
Jan 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1970-present, prose
Ondaatje. I understand why people like at least some of his work. I understand why his prose is appealing, though it's the sort of thing nobody can do without occasionally seeming laughable (not even Virginia Woolf). I sort of get the appeal.

But I'm really sick of IMPORTANT LITERARY FICTION in Canada and really, really sick of IMPORTANT LITERARY FICTION's dominance of the Canadian literary scene. This trend seems to really have kicked off with Ondaatje's GGA win for The English Patient. Before
...more
Ova - Excuse My Reading
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ondaatje is so talented. This is a slow, stunning read. I was lucky to read a good Turkish translation but would very much love to read the original again.
Michael Livingston
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A glorious, powerful, mesmerising book. The writing is exquisite at a sentence level, and Ondaatje somehow writes both a rich history of working class Toronto and an almost-biblical tale of fate, love and revenge.
Mattia Ravasi
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This 'humble epic' about Canada's working class in the early twentieth century is a memento to their sacrifices and to the injustice of their condition, a book made so much better by its lack of political extremism and by its dry, solemn prose; and it is also a wonderful and heartbreaking love novel.
Laura
Mar 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura by: From Bookcrossing
In this book, Patrick Lewis describes the lives of the people who surround him in Toronto in the 1920s. Patrick begins to learn, from their stories, the history of the city itself.
Deanna
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
There were lots of levels of experiencing this novel. It was a hypnotic and powerful read by a wonderfully talented writer. That felt like 4 stars.

While it never ever feels like you’re reading description, at every moment you are not just immersed in but almost physically in a vigorous sensory experience of immediate place and physical experience.

However, the characters felt less like full characters and more like holders of a point to make. And the plot unevenly held my interest.

None of it a
...more
Iida
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This novel is the reason novels need to be written. Ondaatje is always a stunning writer, his prose brushing up against poetry in the very best of ways, but In the Skin of a Lion rivals The English Patient with its imagery. I re-read this novel about once a year, and every time the first cracking of the spine is an almost spiritual experience.

Ondaatje is a rare writer of historical fiction in that his background knowledge is clearly immense, but he doesn't feel the need to lay it all out in the
...more
Shauna Hruby
Jun 23, 2009 rated it liked it
There were moments of beauty and visual acuity, but more often there were moments of muddlesome bemusement. Story arcs left hanging, dangling tantalizingly (a nun falling off a bridge to be caught in mid-air, but then what...?)--abandoned, but returned to eventually. Satisfying and unsatisfying at the same time. There is a quote in the book that seems to sum up my feelings of this book:
"Only the best art can order the chaotic tumble of events. Only the best can realign chaos to suggest both the
...more
Sarah
Dec 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
First things first: I do not think Michael Ondaatje gets enough credit. I know that he wrote "The English Patient," which became an epic romantic film with Ralph Fiennes. But not only is "The English Patient" a wonderful book, but ALL of his books are beautiful. "In the Skin of a Lion" may be my favorite.

I have a great love affair with Ondaatje's prose, which gently lilts and probes and carefully illuminates the most telling truths about his characters. There are very few other writers whose wor
...more
graycastle
Jun 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: contemporary
This is my favourite of Ondaatje's novels, and I am quite the Ondaatje fan, so. This is pomo in ways that are by now familiar: interested in collage-style historical documentation, nonlinear, imagistic, in opposition to grand narratives, obsessed with artistic creation, etc. And I love that stuff, because it is awesome. But what really makes this work is Ondaatje's prose, which is lush and visceral and delicious - he invests all of his characters with a specific kind of depth resultant from the ...more
Charles
May 19, 2010 rated it liked it
The prose was fluid and poetic. The narrative was non-linear, but ultimately disappointing, disjointed, and dispasionate. The characters were poorly developed, cool, distant, and obscure; and, thus, too, I found their relationships undeveloped and somewhat random. Who was coupling with whom? And why?

Ultimately, the prose was sizzle without steak, a beautiful box without jewels, a floral preamble without body.
may ❀

If you were to ask me what this book was about, I wouldn't be able to answer you. Literally, 90% of this book didn't make sense to me.

Fortunately, (or maybe unfortunately) I'm not obliged to write a review about it since I only read it for school. - I would have DNFed it ages ago if I could. :p

Kay, byeeeee.

2 stars!
Mary
Sep 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm currently rereading this small novel which I think is a masterpiece of restrained and beautiful writing. Ondaatje can infuse eroticism into the struggles of the working class--in the 1920s in this novel. He introduces the characters here that will reappear in The English Patient. It is about so many things: how immigrants cope with a new land, how they learn the language of that land (hilariously by listening to Fats Waller songs in addition to going to plays and memorizing the lines along w ...more
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Powerful sexual energy,with sweetness! Labor problems included. 6 51 Nov 28, 2012 05:12PM  

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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

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