In the Skin of a Lion

In the Skin of a Lion

by Michael Ondaatje


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Bristling with intelligence and shimmering with romance, this novel tests the boundary between history and myth. Patrick Lewis arrives in Toronto in the 1920s and earns his living searching for a vanished millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. In the course of his adventures, Patrick's life intersects with those of characters who reappear in Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning The English Patient. 256 pp.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679772668
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/28/1997
Series: Vintage International Series
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 330,466
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Michael Ondaatje is the author of three previous novels, a memoir and eleven books of poetry. His novel The English Patient won the Booker Prize. Born in Sri Lanka, he moved to Canada in 1962 and now lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt

An April night in 1917. Harris and Pomphrey were on the bridge, in the dark wind. Pomphrey had turned west and was suddenly stilled. His hand reached out to touch Harris on the shoulder, a gesture he had never made before.

— Look!

Walking on the bridge were five nuns.

Past the Dominion Steel castings wind attacked the body directly. The nuns were walking past the first group of workers at the fire. The bus, Harris thought, must have dropped them off near Castle Frank and the nuns had, with some confusion at that hour, walked the wrong way in the darkness.

They had passed the black car under the trees and talking cheerfully stepped past the barrier into a landscape they did not know existed — onto a tentative carpet over the piers, among the night labourers. They saw the fire and the men. A few tried to wave them back. There was a mule attached to a wagon. The hiss and jump of machines made the ground under them lurch. A smell of creosote. One man was washing his face in a barrel of water.

The nuns were moving towards a thirty-yard point on the bridge when the wind began to scatter them. They were thrown against the cement mixers and steam shovels, careering from side to side, in danger of going over the edge.

Some of the men grabbed and enclosed them, pulling leather straps over their shoulders, but two were still loose. Harris and Pomphrey at the far end looked on helplessly as one nun was lifted up and flung against the compressors. She stood up shakily and then the wind jerked her sideways, scraping her along the concrete and right off the edge of the bridge. She disappeared into the night by the third abutment, into the long depth of air which held nothing, only sometimes a rivet or a dropped hammer during the day.

Then there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen off the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished. The men covered in wood shavings or granite dust held the women against them. And Commissioner Harris at the far end stared along the mad pathway. This was his first child and it had already become a murderer.

What People are Saying About This

Russell Banks

Michael Ondaatje's fiction is as original and evocative as any being written today....Brilliantly imaginative.

Maxine Hong Kingston

A beautiful novel....Explodes into fantastic directions.

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In the Skin of a Lion 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was assigned to read this book for a post-colonial literature class in Dublin, but I later learned it was the professor's favorite novel and still believe that he secretly assigned it to us as a gift. . . Patrick White, who Ondaatje kills off without much attention in the English Patient, is an ingenius non-character. Through him we experience this fascinating and exciting underground world of Toronto's immigrant working class. We never find out too much about him, but through him we really see how vital our friends and loves are in our lives. . . There is some point in the novel where Clara tells Patrick that 'people are replaced' and Ondaatje makes it true. the sincerity of the flux of the central love story here is this novel's greatest strength. Ovid wrote of one of his mythological characters, 'Never before did one's heart have such a capacity for love.' That's how I feel about Patrick, so incredible is his love for Clara, and for her remarkable replacement. . . the death of Alice Gull is one of the most gut wrenching sequences I've ever read, and it begins so beautifully with some line like 'he had always wanted to know Alice Gull when she was old. . .' God I cry at those first lines every time I read them. . . reading this great book should give you the patience to follow the surreal plot. There is a line in the middle of the novel that explains what the first line of every novel should be. . . when you get to it you'll be glad you did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ondaatje may well be the best writer today of romantic image, mood and intent. This story is fantastic in the ideal of a Mark Helprin novel and succeeds there competantly. Most perfect, however, in layering Patrick Lewis' discoveries of love for two women over time, building one over the veneer of the other. This and the romantic characters of a richly explained trade, Temelcoff one of the author's best figures to date. An excellent book.
jonathon.hodge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
one of the best from a fine fine writer - set in Toronto 100 years ago (or so); many of the landmarks still stand
MarkMeg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Too many books. Will get back to it if time.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A collage of fascinating characters and beautiful language, this book is one of those that you'll wonder at as you read, and look forward to rereading. What seems in the beginning simply a collection of characters and situations comes together quickly into a surprising and beautiful story of loves, regrets, and slanted idealism. Ondaatje's prose is magnificent and poetic, and I can't recommend it highly enough. This is a book to read alone when you have the time to appreciate it, and a book that will suck you in and become your world for some hours if you allow it to take you away. Halfway through this book, I knew I'd be rereading it, and that hasn't changed. This is a wonder of a book: graceful, solid, heartening. Recommended.
ElizabethPisani on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Say Ondaatje and everyone thinks of The English Patient. This predates it, though some of the characters are the same. An extraordinarily well-crafted tale of survival and adaptation in a very strange land (Canada). Scenes written to be engraved on a reader's memory. Stealing warmth from a cow's gums, for instance.
fieldnotes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"In the Skin of a Lion" is thick with memorable scenes. The plot advances from one evocative boiling point or epiphany to the next, threading together a small crew of intense and sympathetic individuals. The stoic, unschooled and hard-working protagonists allow a fresh perspective on early 20th century industrialization, which Ondaatje manages without ever becoming preachy or obsessed.The life circumstances that Ondaatje includes impart an almost mythic quality to the beginnings and endings of various romances . . . the intensity and strangeness of the relationships reminded me at times of Djuna Barnes' "Nightwood," while the earthiness and sensibility of the prose in general was more reminiscent of Steinbeck or Anderson.There are times when the poetic quality of the narrative spills over into the dialogue, creating utterances that seem rather unlikely to have been as spur of the moment as the context suggests: "Remorse: A strange word. It suggests a turning around on yourself" or "I feel she's loaned to me. We're veiled in flesh." But there are wonderfully light details thrown into the movement of things that more than compensate for a few awkward moments: "How can she who had torn his heart open at the waterworks with her art lie now like a human in his arms? Or stand catatonic in front of bananas on Eastern Avenue deciding which bunch to buy?" or "In each set of trees was a live monkey, never able to reach the diners because of a frail chain. The animals had to dodge the champagne corks aimed at them--if you hit a monkey you were brought a free bottle. Sales of champagne soared and only now and then was there a shriek followed by a cheer."I will reread this book and I will now have to read some of this man's other books--meaning that my aversion to reading anything by a man that I associated with the Academy Awards and Ralph Fiennes has been completely undone by "In the Skin of a Lion."
charisse_louw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Once in a blue moon the exquisite pleasure of fine writing overwhelms the senses. Savour it!
mjharris on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this after Anil's ghost and English patient, both great books too. I like this one best, perhaps because I lived for two years in Toronto and the dreamlike quality in the writing mingled with my nostalgia for the city.
clmueller on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful. Paralleled to the Epic of Gilgamesh (the oldest written story) this is historical fiction, legend, epic, postmodern, with a dash of magic realism. The references to Gilgamesh are infinite, but the novel tells a lot more about Toronto in the early 20th century, working class immigrants, minority voices, and the fight for and rise of worker unions.
Terosauras on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this book! I hope the ladies in my book club do too because it's what I picked for the summer read!
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michael Ondaatje creates the most powerful images with words! He is so gifted! This story follows, in a somewhat convoluted manner, the path of Patrick Lewis, from the deep woods in Ontario, Canada to Toronto. Patrick loves two women, holds two jobs, and makes some rather dramatic choices, involving explosives! Along the way the reader learns some of the history of Toronto's infrastructure and the people who built it. The plot flows like a lazy, beautiful river, taking unexpected turns all along the way. It is a dreamy ride, sometimes confusing, but well worth it in the end. Lovely writing!
MarysGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me a few pages to get into this book, but it was well worth the effort. Ondaatje is a consummate word smith and story teller.
Cait86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the Skin of a Lion is, in my world, pretty much the definition of a perfect book.It is the story of Patrick Lewis, a young man working in Toronto in the 20s and 30s. It is also the story of Toronto itself - the growth of the city, the immigrants who built it, and the business men who took the credit. It is a story of love, loss, and love again, and of revenge. Most of all, it is a story about life, and what it is that makes life worth living.I read Ondaatje's The English Patient last summer, and loved every second of it. It is definitely Ondaatje's most well-received book, and the one that is most widely read. This, in my humble opinion, is unfortunate. Yes, I love The English Patient, but In the Skin of a Lion is better. Ondaatje's style is definitely non-linear. Here is a book that jumps through time, and slowly unveils several storylines. The result is a complete picture, but it is told through fragments. The work falls squarely on the shoulders of the reader. It is our job to piece the puzzle together, and to make what we can. Ondaatje's work reminds me of an Impressionist painting - up close, we see what looks like random brush-strokes; step back, and the picture is clear. An individual chapter or instance in this book won't give us the answers, won't make everything clear; in the end, however, the entirity of this story just might shed some light on the confusion.Practically speaking, if you enjoyed The English Patient, you will probably enjoy In the Skin of a Lion - and enjoy learning more about certain characters who inhabit both books. If you didn't love The English Patient, I would urge you to try In the Skin of a Lion. It is a beautiful book, one that goes straight to the top of my memorable reads for the year. Ondaatje deserves more recognition then he gets - he is, in my mind, nothing short of a brilliant author - one of Canada's best.
onthequest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favourite books. This turns out to be odd, as it was the very first book I managed to complete that had a non-linear narrative. It works exactly like being told a story... when your teller stops in the middle and says, "Oh, wait. Before I can tell you this part you need to know..." and goes down a path that is essential to the story, but not part of it.When I finished this book (several years ago, now), I leaned back in my chair, sighed contentedly, and returned to the first page to start it again. I have re-read it again more than once.Dare I compare it to dark chocolate?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pozzo More than 1 year ago
I carry this with me wherever I travel because just a page or 2 reboots me. Always fresh, always amazing. The writing, the vision, is like nothing else. The nun falling off the bridge -- read just that passage early in the book and you will see. It's not what you think. This book completely transcends categories of men's vs women's books. If you can think and imagine this is your book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book back in school...amazing. The novel was very well written and Ondaatje brilliantly illustrates us the lives of the characters. I recall an excerpt describing Nicholas Tem. as he is working on the I have read in years. I truly recommend this book and definitely Ondaatje's best so far, and I can't wait for the new one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone told me this book was really good. I turned page after page waiting for it to get good. It never happened. The plot never went anywhere... Patrick just cries about women the entire time. The writing style was also excruciating to read. It was too fragmented... I'm all for 'leaving things to the imagination', but when the plot has trouble moving along because there is no backbone to the book... you have a problem. Overall bad, bad book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a book you can escape into another era, and another place this is the book for you. Ondaaje's characters are intriguing and alive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't agree at all with the gushing praise--sorry, but this book was one of my least favorite of all time. I only finished it because it was a book club selection and I kept hoping I would start to like the book. The characters, I'll admit, are interesting. But their motivation is completely unexplained and some of what they do makes no sense. I really dislike the writer's style; the periodic insertion of sections akin to free verse poetry didn't seem natural, but rather, contrived to show how "singular" or erudite the author is. The plot was plodding at some points, and highly implausable at others. Overall this struck me as a book just trying too hard to be artistic.