Reading The English Patient

First Vintage International Edition for The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, copyright 1992.

The English Patient is the 1993 recipient of the acclaimed Booker Prize Award, written by the Sri Lankan-Canadian Novelist Michael Ondaatje.  I just finished this novel in one sitting (I tell, you, sometimes I freak myself out this way).  But it doesn’t mean the novel was easy to penetrate – in fact, it has been on my bookshelf for quite a long time, on queue for almost four months.  It goes without saying that I had few unsuccessful attempts to read this one, mainly because I was initially discouraged by the non linear approach of plot and the varying accounts of four main characters – Almásy, Hana, Kip and Caravaggio – which was confusing ad misleading at some point.  But the moment I jumpstarted to seriously get through the novel, I could honestly say that I didn’t experience any hint of midnovel blues, something that I usually experience when I read novels.

The beautifully crafted novel by Michael Ondaatje transcends your mind and senses into two distinctive settings in the novel – the heat in the desert and the emptiness in the villa.  Michael Ondaatje’s keen sense of the details of the desert and descriptions of the villa blend well with the mysticism and the shadowy identity of “the English patient”.  On the literal level, the presence of the morphine gives the novel its poetic mystical feel – twisting the memories and the identity of “the English patient” and giving the novel its overall mysterious quality.  No doubt this is one of my favorite novels: the austere tone and the honest approach to the craft of writing and storytelling makes this novel a charming contemporary read.

Here are some of my favorite memorable quotes from The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

  • For echo is the soul of the voice exciting itself in hollow places.
  • That was how he felt safest.  Revealing nothing.
  • There are betrayals in war that are childlike with our human betrayals during peace.  The new lover enters the habit of the other.  Things are smashed, revealed in new light.  This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire.
  • “What do you hate most?” he asks.

“A lie.  And you?”

“Ownership,” he says.  When you leave me, forget me.”

  • How does this happen?  To fall in love and be disassembled?”
  • “I just want you to know.  I don’t miss you yet.”

“You will,” she says.

  • “Madox, what is the name of that hollow at the base of a woman’s neck?  At the front.  Here. What is it, does it have an official name?  That hollow about the size of an impress of your thumb?”

Madox watches me for a moment through the noon glare.

“Pull yourself together,” he mutters.

  • What is terrible in what I did?  Don’t we forgive everything of a lover?  We forgive selfishness, desire, guile.  As long as we are the motive for it.
  • He pointed his thick finger to the spot by his Adam’s apple and said, “This is called the vascular sizood.” Giving that hollow at her neck an official name.
  • We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.  All I desired was to walk upon such earth that had no maps.
  • “I shall have to learn how to miss you.”
  • “Love is so small it can tear itself through the eye of the needle.”

This novel was made into a film of the same title, starring Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Wilhelm Defoe, Colin Firth and Naveen Andrews.  The 1996 film version was directed by Anthony Minghella and it won nine Oscars, including Best Picture.

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