The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje – Book Review

Title: The English Patient

Author: Michael Ondaatje

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Booker Prize Winner, Dramatic Fiction, Romantic Drama

Blurb from Goodreads

Haunting and harrowing, as beautiful as it is disturbing, The English Patient tells the story of the entanglement of four damaged lives in an Italian monastery as World War II ends.

The exhausted nurse, Hana; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burn victim who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning.

In lyrical prose informed by a poetic consciousness, Michael Ondaatje weaves these characters together, pulls them tight, then unravels the threads with unsettling acumen.

A book that binds readers of great literature, The English Patient garnered the Booker Prize for author Ondaatje. 

My Review

I adore the film adaptation of The English Patient. I saw it initially in the cinema as a teenager and was captivated by the forbidden love story played out among a backdrop of war and uncertainty. I knew I needed to read the original novel… yet I’m only getting to it 20 odd years later!

But perhaps the wait was a good idea. Because the book feels very different to the film. They exist perfectly independent of each other. Where the film focuses on the romance between Almásy and Katherine, the book focuses more on Hana and definitely a tonne more on Kip.

But both are luscious.

The film looks sumptuously rich, and the novel matches it with sumptuous prose. It’s a book to lose yourself in. Words feel like they mean more. The narrative is non-linear, and it constantly changes the focus on the characters…
I mean it shouldn’t work. It should be awkward. Confusing. Or Frustrating even…
And yet it’s none of that.
Because each sentence feels perfectly placed. Each unravelling thread of the story reveals itself in such a natural fashion that a linear timeline isn’t required.

I keep thinking of the lyrics to the Bee Gees penned song “Words”: it’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.
That feels apt for this book. The prose enraptured me so much that I didn’t care about plot or character. I just lost myself to the rhythms of the novel and had a beautifully enriching reading experience because of it.

This passage from the novel perfectly encapsulates all this novel made me feel:

”She entered the story knowing she would emerge from it feeling she had been immersed in the lives of others, in plots that stretched back twenty years, her body full of sentences and moments, as if awaking from sleep with a heaviness caused by unremembered dreams.”

Highly recommended. Now to rewatch the film….

My Socials

4 thoughts on “The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje – Book Review

  1. I only recently saw the movie for the first time and I really enjoyed it. I want to read the book but the movie was heartbreaking so I’ll have to wait for the right mood to put myself through that again. That quote about reading is wonderful and completely true.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I adore the film so much. Even the way it’s shot is beautiful. There’s something about the way they used the light… just gorgeous! And the book made me feel the very same way but for entirely different reasons. I was amazed by how different they were but yet both fantastic 😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Éimhear. That’s a timely reminder, thanks. I also, loved the movie, and the book, but I haven’t read it for a long time; I’ll re-read it one of these days. Luscious, sumptuous. You used the very best words to describe both film and book!

    Liked by 1 person

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