Katie's Reviews > The English Patient

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
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's review
Feb 09, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: war, historical-fiction

While traveling, I like to read a book pertaining to my destination - you know, to round out the experience and engage all my senses and whatnot. Case in point: Just before departing for Oz, I read Bill Bryson's In a Sunburnt Country. Upon heading to Dublin, I got myself a copy of Angela's Ashes. So naturally, for a recent trip to the UK countryside and coasts, I thought I'd keep up with the practice and read The English Patient.

Right. So maybe it wasn't a perfect fit, seeing as the English Patient in question is not in fact English - nor is the book set in England - but you know what, it was the best I could do with the time - and stack of unread books - that I had. In hindsight, perhaps a nice Jane Austen would have been better, but...that's life. Besides, The English Patient had been on my mind for quite some time, and there's something satisfying about ticking a book off of your to-read list. So, two birds, one stone.

As for the book itself, since that's probably what you're after if you're reading this review, I'm split. Parts were so brilliant - beautiful, poetic writing, a plot that keeps you up at night to read just one more one more one more page, an intriguing cast of characters - but at other times, the story barely trudged forward, there was an overabundance of exposition and the ancient Greek (uh, I think it was Greek. Note to self: Study up on ancient histories) went way over my head (as indicated by the previous parenthetical).

The best parts of the book for me were when Ondaatje worked among his four main characters. Alone in about-to-be-post-war Europe, their stories collide as they come to terms with what they've experienced and what of it still matters. I read a lot of books about wartime, so the question of after the war, the "Where do we go from here?", haunted me: How long are the bad guys still the bad guys? How many more bombs threaten civilians? How long will the suffering of loss last?

This was an ambitious undertaking on Ondaatje's part, and I'm almost sorry I didn't fall in love with it. I do think it's the sort of book that would benefit from a re-read, but alas, so many books, so little time.

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