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Two Poems

Michael Ondaatje, 20 August 1998

... House on a Red Cliff There is no mirror in Mirissa the sea is in the leaves the waves are in the palms old languages in the arms of the casuarina pine parampara parampara, from generation to generation The flamboyant a grandfather planted having lived through fire lifts itself over the roof unframed the house an open net where the night concentrate ...

Onion-Pilfering

Brian Dillon: Michael Ondaatje, 13 December 2007

Divisadero 
by Michael Ondaatje.
Bloomsbury, 273 pp., £17.99, September 2007, 978 0 7475 8924 2
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... to Claire and Anna. There is an almost mythological necessity about the narrative set-up of Michael Ondaatje’s novel. A sexual relationship develops between Coop and Anna; they are discovered by the father, who viciously beats his adopted son and drives away with Anna, leaving Claire to nurse the injured Coop in the middle of an ice storm. The ...

Hit the circuit

Theo Tait: Michael Ondaatje, 20 July 2000

Anil's Ghost 
by Michael Ondaatje.
Bloomsbury, 311 pp., £16.99, May 2000, 9780747548652
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... Even Michael Ondaatje’s most ardent admirers admit that there’s an act of faith involved in reading his work. Words like ‘precious’, ‘portentous’, ‘a struggle’ and ‘slightly implausible’ regularly crop up in even the most enthusiastic reviews – but are then explained away as necessary sacrifices to his higher purpose ...

The Runaways

Tessa Hadley: Michael Ondaatje, 8 November 2018

Warlight 
by Michael Ondaatje.
Cape, 299 pp., £16.99, June 2018, 978 1 78733 071 9
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... If you took​ only the subject matter of Michael Ondaatje’s novels into account, you would expect him to be an austere and even punishing writer. He chooses the darkest material, chronicles passages of life that would test the most resilient cheerfulness. Coming through Slaughter (1976) is loosely based on the tragic life of the jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden, who died in an asylum in New Orleans ...

Ways of being a man

Nicholas Spice, 24 September 1992

The English Patient 
by Michael Ondaatje.
Bloomsbury, 307 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 9780747512547
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... a sea horse, for sea horses are beady-eyed little creatures, characteristically alert and erect. Michael Ondaatje’s prose is inventively figurative, but his figures do not always quite add up. A man sets off across the desert on foot, seventy miles to the next oasis: ‘water in a skin bag he had filled from the ain hung from his shoulder and sloshed ...

World’s End

John Sutherland, 1 October 1987

The Day of Creation 
by J.G. Ballard.
Gollancz, 254 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 575 04152 8
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The Playmaker 
by Thomas Keneally.
Hodder, 310 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 340 34154 8
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In the Skin of a Lion 
by Michael Ondaatje.
Secker, 244 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 436 34009 7
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The House of Hospitalities 
by Emma Tennant.
Viking, 184 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 670 81501 2
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... Keneally anatomises historical Australia by plucking from its origins a strange factual nugget. Michael Ondaatje does something similar for Canada with a wispy succession of word paintings eerily evocative of a past he cannot have known but can magically conjure. His prose is consciously poetic and at first sight seems more conditioned by the need to ...

Mistaken or Doomed

Thomas Jones: Barry Unsworth, 12 March 2009

Land of Marvels 
by Barry Unsworth.
Hutchinson, 287 pp., £18.99, January 2009, 978 0 09 192617 5
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... arresting Rodney King, a black man, Unsworth won half the Booker Prize – the other half went to Michael Ondaatje for The English Patient – for a novel that in its unsparing portrayal of life aboard an 18th-century slave ship looked back to the colonial and commercial origins of racial tensions in North America. With its description of a multicultural ...

Ellipticity

C.K. Stead, 10 June 1993

Remembering Babylon 
by David Malouf.
Chatto, 200 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 0 7011 5883 2
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... which is to compress ‘the myths, the poetry, the history of a vast and ancient continent’; Michael Ondaatje has likened it to ‘a spirit painting in a 19th century locket – full of wisdoms and magic – the most delicate tracing of a profound and elliptical history, thrilling in its style and adventurousness’; the marketing director of ...

Homo Narrator

Inga Clendinnen, 16 March 2000

Mirror Talk: Genres of Crisis in Contemporary Autobiography 
by Susanna Egan.
North Carolina, 275 pp., £39.95, September 1999, 0 8078 4782 8
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... performative utterance indeed, and clearly intended to repel all invaders. (It didn’t. See what Michael Wood does with it in The Magician’s Doubts, a book, astoundingly, worthy of its subject.) Hidden motives and additional adverbs were optional, but the autobiographer’s central assertion used to be: ‘here I uniquely, truthfully stand, and no one can ...

Mortal on Hooch

William Fiennes: Alan Warner, 30 July 1998

The Sopranos 
by Alan Warner.
Cape, 336 pp., £9.99, June 1998, 0 224 05108 3
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... in the form of a script. Warner’s magic realism is not that of Marquez and Rushdie but of Michael Ondaatje, whose magical images do not require any supernatural explanation. Morvern’s knee sparkles with different-coloured specks because she once slid on her knees and grazed her skin across the glitter of a Christmas card. Lanna’s grandmother ...

A Family of Acrobats

Adam Mars-Jones: Teju Cole, 3 July 2014

Every Day Is for the Thief 
by Teju Cole.
Faber, 162 pp., £12.99, April 2014, 978 0 571 30792 0
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... humour, neither of them from the narrator’s point of view. The image of the acrobats is from Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, and isn’t, on its first mention in that book, a dream: ‘The doors are twenty feet high, as if awaiting the day when a family of acrobats will walk from room to room, sideways, without dismantling from each ...
After Hannibal 
by Barry Unsworth.
Hamish Hamilton, 242 pp., £16, September 1996, 0 241 13342 4
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... attitudes to invention that is so striking. Closer to home, and rather more suggestive, is Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, with which Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger shared the Booker Prize in 1992. Did Unsworth empathise with his co-winner’s vision of war-torn Italy, and his account of the ruinous splendour of Poliziano’s Tuscan ...

On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

... World Literature should really be called Global Literature. It has its royalty, like Coetzee and Ondaatje, Mohsin Hamid and Kiran Desai; its prizes (the Nobel, the International Man Booker), its festivals (Jaipur, Hay), and its intellectual support system (the universities). The success of World Literature, the editors said, is a by-product of successful ...

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