To compare the storytelling techniques of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water, consider how both narratives rely on mystery. It can be rather hard to discern what’s going on at first. The English Patient begins with an unnamed “she” in a garden. Green Grass, Running Water starts with a single sentence: “So.” The next two sentences are similarly enigmatic: “In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water.”
With both stories, there’s key information that’s missing. One can’t blame the reader if they feel a bit confused. Yet the bewilderment might be on purpose. It’s possible that King and Ondaatje want the reader to be confused so that they’ll read on and figure out what’s going on.
When it comes to depicting what’s going on, the storytelling techniques differ. Although both novels center on threatened, precarious individuals, King juxtaposes the serious struggles of the Indigenous people with ample satire and parody (i.e., humor). At one point, Hawkeye, Ishmael, Robinson Crusoe, and Long Ranger can’t even agree on who should tell the story. Their scenes, for many reasons, could be called comical. Meanwhile, Ondaatje doubles down on the serious subject matter of his story by communicating the struggles of the four villa occupants in a sharp and somber tone.
One more storytelling technique to contrast is the presence of cultural references. The cultural references in King story’s come off as middlebrow or lowbrow. The Lone Ranger is a character from a popular radio show (which would go on to become a hit TV show). The cultural references in Ondaatje’s novel appear highbrow or intellectual. Ondaatje’s David Caravaggio alludes to the artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Perhaps the different types of cultural references relate to the different tones in which the respective stories are told.