The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

Title: The English Patient
Author: Michael Ondaatje
ISBN: 9780679745204
Pages: 320
Release Date: January 1, 1992
Publisher: Vintage
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!

Comments

  1. I read this book years ago and didn’t really enjoy it. I’m re-reading it now (should finish it today) and I’m enjoying it a lot more this time around. I haven’t seen the movie, but maybe I should.

  2. I read this book years ago and didn’t really enjoy it. I’m re-reading it now (should finish it today) and I’m enjoying it a lot more this time around. I haven’t seen the movie, but maybe I should.

  3. I’ve read several things by Ondaatje but I haven’t read this one. I even got to meet Ondaatje and his wife when they came to Stratford. She’s also a great writer and think her book “Who Named the Knife” is amazing and should be read by everyone!

  4. I’ve read several things by Ondaatje but I haven’t read this one. I even got to meet Ondaatje and his wife when they came to Stratford. She’s also a great writer and think her book “Who Named the Knife” is amazing and should be read by everyone!

  5. Interesting review. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the movie, I think I could approach reading the book with a fresh mind, though I would still think of Ralph Fiennes . . .

  6. Interesting review. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the movie, I think I could approach reading the book with a fresh mind, though I would still think of Ralph Fiennes . . .

  7. The first few chapters were too slow for me. So I never finished.

  8. The first few chapters were too slow for me. So I never finished.

  9. My brother has this book. He loved it. I am going to grab it from him.

    BTW, everything distils into reading is my new blog. Please do visit it, subscribe to it or follow it! Do help me spread the word.

  10. My brother has this book. He loved it. I am going to grab it from him.

    BTW, everything distils into reading is my new blog. Please do visit it, subscribe to it or follow it! Do help me spread the word.

  11. I haven’t finished yet, but I feel like I wouldn’t finish if I hadn’t seen the movie!

  12. I haven’t finished yet, but I feel like I wouldn’t finish if I hadn’t seen the movie!

  13. I know what you mean about books sitting on the shelf waiting to be read. I have a lots of them, too, and often I’ll pick one up and I ask myself the same question … why did I wait so long to read this!

  14. I know what you mean about books sitting on the shelf waiting to be read. I have a lots of them, too, and often I’ll pick one up and I ask myself the same question … why did I wait so long to read this!

  15. This sounds good. I’ll keep it in mind.

  16. This sounds good. I’ll keep it in mind.

  17. I’m not a fan of Ondaatje (though I haven’t read this one and fell asleep during the movie).

    I know what you mean about wondering how some people are able to visualize a movie from certain books. I’m still stunned that The Hours was able to be adapted as well as it was.

  18. I’m not a fan of Ondaatje (though I haven’t read this one and fell asleep during the movie).

    I know what you mean about wondering how some people are able to visualize a movie from certain books. I’m still stunned that The Hours was able to be adapted as well as it was.

  19. I definitely had trouble in the beginning, but I found that once the little vignettes started to come together in the last 100 pages that I was really enjoying it. Not my favorite but I’m glad I chose it and think I’d like to read it again and add up the bits I missed the first time.

  20. I definitely had trouble in the beginning, but I found that once the little vignettes started to come together in the last 100 pages that I was really enjoying it. Not my favorite but I’m glad I chose it and think I’d like to read it again and add up the bits I missed the first time.

  21. I’ve seen the movie but never considered reading the book.. I might change my mind now and check the book 🙂

  22. I’ve seen the movie but never considered reading the book.. I might change my mind now and check the book 🙂

  23. I’ve always wanted to pick up the book-it’s on my shelf. I’ve seen the movie a few times and loved it but I’ve always been one to prefer reading the book first and that’s kind why I haven’t read it yet. I feel like the book might be ruined by me having seen the movie a few times.

  24. I’ve always wanted to pick up the book-it’s on my shelf. I’ve seen the movie a few times and loved it but I’ve always been one to prefer reading the book first and that’s kind why I haven’t read it yet. I feel like the book might be ruined by me having seen the movie a few times.

  25. Nice review. I avoided reading this post until I wrote up my own thoughts. After discussing the book online today, I feel that maybe I got more out of the book than I had originally thought.

  26. Nice review. I avoided reading this post until I wrote up my own thoughts. After discussing the book online today, I feel that maybe I got more out of the book than I had originally thought.

  27. You know, I still haven’t watch or read this yet, but it’s definitely on my wishlist!

  28. You know, I still haven’t watch or read this yet, but it’s definitely on my wishlist!

  29. I really liked this book when I first read it. I really loved the movie as well.

  30. I really liked this book when I first read it. I really loved the movie as well.

  31. I haven’t seen the movie, but the book is sitting on my shelf. I hope to get to it soon. I hope it’s okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  32. I haven’t seen the movie, but the book is sitting on my shelf. I hope to get to it soon. I hope it’s okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  33. I wasn’t such a fan of this book…too slow for me.

  34. Emotion, Romance , Confusion, Love, Hate, Deceit, Nationalism, War, Death, Destruction, Country, Pride, Service, Red Cross…all weaved together into a thick layered plot.
    Either watch the movie by same name or read this book.

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