The Michael Ondaatje Rave ("Divisadero" Is Magnificento!)

I just finished Michael Ondaatje's latest book, "Divisadero", last night and it was, like all of his books, fantastic. He certainly makes us wait a long time between novels, but when they finally do come out they're never disappointing. The man's writing is simply mesmerizing, mysterious, magical and moving (and, why the hell not, magnificent, marvelous and majestic too).

Besides being beautiful and poetic - he is a poet, after all - and brilliantly creative, imaginative, and original, Ondaatje's writing is completely captivating and enthralling. Like any great writer, he pulls you in and keeps you transfixed from the first page right until the last. But, unlike many other writers, his style and his stories are very unstructured in the traditional sense. Like Tarantino making films, his books never feature your typical beginning-middle-end. I mean, your old-school high school teacher would have failed this guy badly. That's how good he is.

In all of his books he freely and seemingly randomly changes time, place and narrative voice, so you're often, at least briefly, unsure of which era or place you've in or even who's telling the story. At times it makes for a much more challenging read than your average book, which of course means it's also much more rewarding. "Divisadero", the new book, is no exception: Multiple interchanging stories told from multiple points of view in multiple times and places. A completely stimulating and fascinating read.

Best of all has always been the way he writes his characters, and the new book, again, is no exception. Ondaatje's characters are fully alive and they slowly make their way into your heart and mind, yet, as with people in the "real world", many remain somewhat mysterious since, as is true of his stories in general, so much is left unsaid, untold and unknown. Left instead to the reader's imagination.

I've now read every one of his five novels and I've loved them all. After Tom Robbins, or, I might even now say, along with Tom Robbins, Ondaatje's my favorite author. And, at first glance, it'd seem you couldn't find two more dissimilar authors, but, in reality, they're quite similar in the way they both use language and narrative structure in whatever way they choose.

As I mentioned above, when it comes to being prolific, the guy sure ain't no Stephen King. He has written quite a few books of poetry over the years, but only five novels in 31 years:

Coming Through Slaughter (1976)
In The Skin of a Lion" (1987)
The English Patient (1992)
Anil's Ghost (2000)
and now Divisadero (2007)

I may have to wait another 5 to 10 years for his next book, but, luckily, for all of you who haven't yet read "Divisadero", or perhaps any of his other books, you've got nothing to wait for. Go out and buy it/them today. And if you've never read anything of his at all, I'd recommend starting with his most famous book, which also happens to be my favorite, "The English Patient". But whatever you do, don't miss out on this amazing writer. It doesn't matter if you can't pronounce his name, just read his bloody books!

One thing's for sure, and that's that Ondaatje, Robbins and other fav writers of mine, such as Margaret Atwood and Nick Hornby, are sure a lot more satisfying for the body, mind and soul than Archie Comics, which is what I read when I was 8, 9 and 10 years old, or stuff like "Jaws" and "Christine", which I read as a young teenager.

And now, just because everyone loves a list, here's a collection of 10 of my favorite books that I read for the first time during the past 10 years, excluding Ondaatje and Robbins, of course. If I were to include them they'd take up more than half of the list. Well, actually, I read most of Tom Robbins' books much earlier than 10 years ago, but, still, here's the list, in no particular order, minus Tom and Michael:

"The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy
"A Primate's Memoir" by Robert M. Sapolsky
"About A Boy" by Nick Hornby
"High Fidelity" by Nick Hornby
"Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer
"Captain Corelli's Mandolin" by Louis de Bernieres
"The Robber Bride" by Margaret Atwood
"Cat's Eye" by Margaret Atwood
"Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson
and, finally, though I may have actually read it about 12 years ago now, "Fuck, Yes!: A Guide to the Happy Acceptance of Everything" by Wing F. Fing (rumored to actually be Tom Robbins), a brilliant and hilarious mock self-help book. Well worth reading... if you can find it.

I just pulled "Coming Through Slaughter" off the bookshelf. It's been a few years since I last read it and I'm excited to dive into it again. I don't usually read the same author twice in a row, definitely not starting one book only a day or two after finishing another, but I just don't think I can stop myself right now. Like Homer Simpson and beer, I simply need... more... Ondaatje.

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007


And if you're into great authors check this out: Nick Hornby and One of My All-Time Favorite Quotes


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In The Skin of a Wienie

Micheal Ondeauachhhchhhheeia; or however you spell his silly name, is Lame-io. his books have all the hallmarks of what is uniquely banal in modern literature. the self-absorbed great white a-hole skulking around the third world, seeing all the poverty as such picturesque landscape to his dull adventures -back home he was a telemarketer-while he pursues the boringly illicit affairs that are so important to our recognizing him as an international bad boy, or as they say en francias, 'la boyee de bad'. but this noxious turd is a man you claim? A MAN? i grant that since he has facial hair in the movie, we can assume he has an x and a y chromosome, and therefore meets the minimal requirements of maleness. Or do you mean, that maybe since he writes like a wienie that he has a weiner? possibly. but if you mean he's a masculine character of consequence, the answer's get real. his narrative goes something like this... 'i saw the whitness of the bulbous portentious cloud floating listlessly on the horizon. it didnt float so much as just kind of bobble. its bobble reminded me that we all are ultimately bobblers, like clouds, in a very ethereal way. but its whiteness was deceptively colorless, for i knew that in my life, there were no absolutes, only gray areas, and that whiteness made me yearn for a purer time. and as though on que, Zwahibee came with my drink, smiling his white smile. oh, to be like these simple pure natives. though Zwahibee wasnt like a native to me, but more like a friend. well maybe not a friend, but like an acquaintance...' his books are unstructured lin the way of a manila garbage dump and he's as poetic as John Lennon primal-screeching in soiled underpants. Thank goodness his output is so minimal. Give me Stephen King and 'Shawshank Redemption' over this anytime. Dave R

Oh, Dave, if only you'd read one of his books

Now, Dave, I was actually waiting for some other Michael Ondaatje fan to reply to this silliness, but since no one has, I guess it's up to me. It seems pretty clear from what you've written that you've never actually read an Ondaatje book, but that you have most definitely seen the film version of "The English Patient". If you had read that book you'd know that the most central character, in a book of many characters, is a Sikh, not a white guy like in the film (which, incidentally, I also really enjoyed). Furthermore, almost all of the characters in "Coming Through Slaughter" are black. The main protagonist, as well as almost every other character, in "Anil's Ghost" is Sri Lankan. And, by the way, Ondaatje isn't even white, he's originally from Sri Lanka himself.

Now, white guys doing white guy stuff (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course), well, that's your typical Stephen King territory right there. Though I'd have to admit that "The Shawshank Redemption" was sure a great bit of storytelling. Even if, like you and "The English Patient", I've only ever seen the film.

Mike Cowie