Review – The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

I put off reading The English Patient for a long time. It seemed long or tedious or too romantic or something. I don’t know why, but reading the book never appealed to me.

Which is absurd, because I loved the movie.

I can’t remember when exactly I saw the film, but I know I was blown away. I watched it at least twice before I had to return it to the video store. It must have been in that period when I lived on Brown Street and would borrow 10 movies every Sunday and watch them all by Wednesday. I wish there was a Goodreads for movies, I’d love to have kept track of all those strange films, because when you have to find 10 new movies a week, you really watch some weird shit.

Anyway, as I say, I loved the film of The English Patient which may be why I put off reading the novel. The kindle version came up on Amazon recently at the bargain price of 2.99 or something, which is exactly my price range, and I read the whole book on the plane from Sydney to London.

First of all, I’m surprised at how literary it is. I don’t know if I was expecting Dan Brown exactly… Maybe I was expecting Dan Brown. Long time readers (hi Mrs Gray!) may recall that I haven’t had a lot of faith in modern authors (for our purposes, ‘modern’ is anyone after Virginia Woolf). So imagine my delight at discovering that The English Patient is like a long poem, an elegiac meandering through ruins and deserts, art, war, love, adventure, distance, betrayal and the sublime. Yes, yes, I liked it.

Reading other’s reviews, I see I’m not the only one who is surprised that such a poetic novel became a bestseller. It seems so unlikely, given the reading public’s preference for vampires and bad BDSM. Perhaps it was a different time. Or perhaps I’m just being an awful snob.

Having read the book, I’m interested in finding out more about how the screenplay was adapted. As I recall it, the movie focused on the affair between Almasy and Katharine Clifton, whereas that particular storyline in the book is just the weft holding the rest of the tapestry together. Why focus on that, I wonder, rather than the nurse, Hana, who feels more like the heart of the story? Maybe the clue is in the title.

If I had any sort of consistency as a book reviewer I would offer a rating of the book now. All I can say is, I loved it, I’m glad I read it, and I think I’ll re-read it again soon.

Book review – The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Stars: Lots of them. As there are sands in the desert.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.


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