Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How to treat The English Patient... or not

But Ondaatje’s anti-narrative technique of bending the lily is not the worst of it. Nor is it his precious and pretentious writing, so lazily glossed by reviewers as “poetic” (as Brian Dillon nails it: “It sounds poetic only if you don’t read poems”). At least one reviewer will confess to being tired of reading about strong but silent types who “have a darkness within” them. This is all quite bad enough. But what causes the most pain is what has been the mainspring, at least since The English Patient, of Ondaatje’s mass popularity. Like all of the books on the shortlist, Divisadero is a romance. And I don’t mean “romance” in the sense of one of Northrop Frye’s mythic modes. I mean that in its essential sensibility it’s the kind of book you’re likely to find on display somewhere close to the checkout in Shopper’s Drug Mart.

Alex Good is sick up and fed with the Giller, Michael Ondaatje and the general state of what passes for mainstream literature in Canada. And I thought he was taking the year off. Glad to see he's still in the game.

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