Friday, May 16, 2014


I finished reading Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (1993) last night.  I enjoyed most of it, and it was a relatively quick read (when I found time to sit down and actually read it, that is).

But now that it's over, I'm kinda like, "It was okay... I guess."

I think what's doing it to me is the novel's ending.  It left me feeling like, "Okay.  Why did I read that?"

There were parts of it that I really enjoyed and that struck me as very lyrical.  But then, there were other parts that struck me as trying to be lyrical by being totally opaque.

This is kind of a pet-peeve of mine.  I call it The Deep Thoughts Syndrome.  It strikes me when I think that an author is trying to be "deep" and "philosophical," but really, I can't understand what they're saying at all, and the more I reread the sentence, trying to figure it out, the more suspicious I get that they may not be saying anything at all, really.

Another pet-peeve.  Leaving an ending so open-ended that it doesn't actually make all that much sense.  If you make me spend hundreds of hundreds of pages with a severely burned English Patient, you have to tell me exactly what happens to him, in the end. 

You just do.

I'm usually okay with leaving things "loose" at the end, but this time, no.  I shouldn't keep turning pages thinking, "Maybe it's a postmodern text and the information is meant to appear after a long blank space in order to symbolize... something...".

I would also say, if you have a person with no thumbs who regularly injects morphine into himself and others, you're really going to have to explain to me how he does that.  At one point, the English Patient finally wonders, "How does he do that?"  and all I could think was, "YES.  TELL me."  Because apparently, the English Patient (even though was being injected himself) couldn't tell.

I really don't think I'm a die-hard realist by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes, what gets me a bit nutty when I read contemporary novels is, they seem to assume that, if you can't figure out how to make something "work," you can just leave it totally vague.  I don't like that: it feels like a writerly cop-out to me.

As did Kip's sudden freak-out about the dropping of the atomic bomb.  That's all I'll say about that.  It seemed to me that Ondaatje felt he had to have a Sikh character whose job involved defusing bombs say something and have some kind of outraged reaction to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and so he did.  And then used that as the pretext for ending a love affair.

Kind of like using suicide by plane to make a statement about adultery.  That's all I'll say about that.

In the end, I kind of wonder whether I would have liked the novel at all, actually, if I hadn't seen the movie first.  The movie-makers knew there were certain things they'd have to play up or fill in if they wanted anyone to watch it, and I think they did a good job of that.

Even if Elaine on Seinfeld didn't agree.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."