Thursday, May 22, 2008

"The English Patient" by Michael Ondaatje

Why I read it: In May 2007, I attended a Q&A with Tim Wynne-Jones (that name keeps popping up...) where in passing they talked about how adult literature has moved away from plot. They held this book up as an example of a book with no plot. But the movie had a plot. And apparently MO said to the screenwriter, upon seeing the movie, something about how amazing it was that he had managed to find a plot in there. So, at Christmas, when I saw that my dad had this on his bookshelf, I picked it up.

I read it over the Christmas break, but I wanted to watch the movie before I wrote anything about it.

What I liked: The four characters in the house had so much history behind them. I really enjoyed reading this book, but it was probably good that I read it over a two-day period, because I would have lost track of the characters and thread if I had put it down for, say, a week or a month. My guess, before watching the movie, was that the stuff in the house in Italy would be a framing device for the main story which I would guess would involve the, well, English patient's back story. So the Canadian nurse, and the Sikh sapper, would be much more minor characters in the movie, and the ending of the book, where the sapper Kip hears about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and leaves, would not be the climax of the movie. And in fact, in the movie that's not even why Kip leaves. In the book his colleague dies a lot earlier, as do a lot of other people around him. In fact, the only people who have back-story in the movie are the burn victim and Caravaggio, and I think Caravaggio's is heavily altered to make it intersect with North Africa. (If the climax of the book is when we find out who the English patient really is, then it happens like two-thirds of the way through.)

While I read this book, I played the "find the plot" game in my head. The edition I read was obviously a movie tie-in editon, as it had a picture of Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas on the cover and a list of the actors on the back. so, I read the book wondering which character Jurgen Prochnow played, or Juliette Binoche, or... well you get the idea.

What I can steal: No idea. Maybe the "find the plot" game.

What I hated: I liked the movie, though Ed said he didn't like it, because it was sad. I liked the book better.

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