The English Patient Essay - Critical Evaluation

Michael Ondaatje

Critical Evaluation

The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje’s third novel, won the Booker Prize, the Canadian Governor General’s Award, and the Trillium Award. It was in part a sequel to In the Skin of a Lion (1987), which featured Patrick, Hana, and Caravaggio. In 1996, The English Patient was adapted by Anthony Mighella into a very successful film that focused mainly on the love affair between Almásy and Katharine Clifton. The film won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing (Walter Murch), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Juliette Binoche). It also won three Golden Globe Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as five British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards, including Best Film.

Ondaatje is both a poet and a novelist. The English Patient combines the best of both genres: It has a very powerful, elegiac, lyrical, imagistic, and romantic quality, and it also has a very strong sense of narrative setting (historical, geographical, artistic, and architectural) and plot (the mystery of the unidentifiable burned patient). In addition, Ondaatje skillfully weaves into his story an intertextuality that blurs genres and texts. He includes direct quotations from bomb manuals, historical sources, British Geographical Society meeting minutes, popular songs, poems, letters, and other novels—including Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901), Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme (1839; The Charterhouse of Parma, 1895), and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886). He also includes quotations from the biblical stories of David, Solomon, Jeremiah, and Isaiah; Tacitus’s Ab excessu divi Augusti...

(The entire section is 713 words.)