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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 pineparampara 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 concentrates on a breath                   on ...


Brian Dillon: Michael Ondaatje

13 December 2007
by Michael Ondaatje.
Bloomsbury, 273 pp., £17.99, September 2007, 978 0 7475 8924 2
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... of the gold that might still be found in the riverbeds. He becomes ever more distant, and more fascinating, to Claire and Anna. There is an almost mythological necessity about the narrative set-up of MichaelOndaatje’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 ...

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 MichaelOndaatje’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 ...

The Runaways

Tessa Hadley: Michael Ondaatje

8 November 2018
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 MichaelOndaatje’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 ...

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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... as asleep and as having in sleep the shape of a sea horse, a penis is not well said to sleep like a sea horse, for sea horses are beady-eyed little creatures, characteristically alert and erect. MichaelOndaatje’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 ...

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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... his brethren, still dispossessed’. Few other novels could carry off the gesture as authoritatively. Keneally anatomises historical Australia by plucking from its origins a strange factual nugget. MichaelOndaatje 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 ...


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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... pre-publication publicity Doris Lessing has welcomed this novel’s ‘really impressive achievement’, which is to compress ‘the myths, the poetry, the history of a vast and ancient continent’; MichaelOndaatje 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 ...

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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... determination to control his own life-telling the even more magnificently titled Speak, Memory – a 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 ...

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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... in Los Angeles after four white police officers were acquitted of using excessive force in the act of arresting Rodney King, a black man, Unsworth won half the Booker Prize – the other half went to MichaelOndaatje 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 ...

A Family of Acrobats

Adam Mars-Jones: Teju Cole

2 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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... towards the car, but nothing is unpacked. There’s a moment of sentiment and a moment of distancing humour, neither of them from the narrator’s point of view. The image of the acrobats is from MichaelOndaatje’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 ...

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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... which would have been more of an innovation if Joyce had not already presented Chapter 15 of Ulysses in the form of a script. Warner’s magic realism is not that of Marquez and Rushdie but of MichaelOndaatje, 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 ...
12 December 1996
After Hannibal 
by Barry Unsworth.
Hamish Hamilton, 242 pp., £16, September 1996, 0 241 13342 4
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... not today’s modest property speculators, but it’s really the difference between the authors’ attitudes to invention that is so striking. Closer to home, and rather more suggestive, is MichaelOndaatje’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 ...
20 February 2014
... gave way, as it were, to the inoffensive Rushdie of The Ground beneath Her Feet. The essay argued that 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 ...

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