In the Skin of a Lion

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In his earlier works, Michael Ondaatje embellished historical documentation with his own fictional inventions to reconstruct the legends of Billy the Kid and jazz trumpeter Buddy Bolden. In doing so, he mythologized those figures, illustrating how their extraordinary capabilities and compulsions drove them to the outskirts of conventional society.

IN THE SKIN OF A LION features a cast of characters who are similarly cursed and blessed by their unusual talents and skills. Among them are Hazen Lewis, an expert dynamiter for a logging company; Alice Gull, an actress and social activist with a murky past; Ambrose Small, a millionaire who has mysteriously disappeared; his mistress, the seductive radio actress Clara Dickens; Commissioner Harris, the moving force behind the development of Toronto’s municipal works; Nicholas Temelcoff, a Macedonian immigrant famous for his daredevilry in building the Prince Edward viaduct; and Caravaggio, a thief who trusts a dog as his only partner.

Central to the story is Hazen Lewis’ son Patrick, also an outsider. Although most of the tale follows Patrick as he eventually becomes acquainted with all the above characters, Ondaatje sometimes shifts the focal point of his narrative to detail the equally intriguing adventures of the rest of the players. Ultimately, much of the pleasure of this challenging work lies in discovering the significance of their seemingly unrelated exploits.

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(The entire section is 426 words.)