Title: The English Patient
Author: Michael Ondaatje
Release Date: January 1, 1992
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the back cover:
The Booker Prize-winning novel, now a critically acclaimed major motion picture, starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe and Kristin Scott Thomas. With ravishing beauty and unsettling intelligence, Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminates this book like flashes of heat lightening.
I’ve had The English Patient on my shelf for a really long time, but I hadn’t ever gotten around to reading it – there was always something more pressing to read on my TBR pile. So when my book club picked it as our May read, I was really excited to give it a try.
I have to admit, my first thoughts after reading this novel were “who in the world thought that this could be turned into a movie?” The English Patient is a beautifully written and lush novel. It is incredibly atmospheric. While the movie was wonderful, I couldn’t really picture the story in my head strictly from the words of the book. I have to give credit to whoever thought this would make a movie and adapted it for the screen. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it!
The novel is very slow, but in a way that is appropriate for the story. It’s about characters, not about the plot. Ondaatje’s writing is gorgeous. He has a way of carefully peeling back the layers of a story, focusing on vignettes and disparate images, rather than telling a whole story from beginning to end. It works really well with his writing style, but it makes the novel difficult to get through. There doesn’t seem to be a force propelling the novel forward.
I have to say, I really loved Hana in The English Patient. While I liked her in the movie as well, Ondaatje takes his time into developing her character. We get glimpses at her true spirit, at her wounded nature as she cares for her patient. I felt like the book was centered around Hana; she was trying to make herself whole again after the horrors she had witnessed as a nurse in the war.
I enjoyed reading The English Patient, though I really wish I had read it before seeing the movie. I would have loved the movie to fill in the gaps of the book, rather than having the complete movie in my head and comparing the book to the film. Still, it was definitely a worthwhile read and I highly recommend it!