Hit the circuit

Theo Tait

  • Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
    Bloomsbury, 311 pp, £16.99, May 2000, ISBN 0 7475 4865 X

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. His books are designed on grand, operatic lines; and they take everything – from love and death to 1940s pop music and bowling – very, very seriously. As a consequence, they risk pratfalls and sniggers. Is he poetic or ‘poetic’? Are his metaphors daring and striking, or patently absurd? Are his lyrical interludes spellbinding or stultifying? Does he turn out prose of Biblical grandeur or thumping pomposity? Is his narrative technique beautifully oblique and prismatic, or disconnected and frequently preposterous?

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