Review: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

RATING: 7/10


With unsettling beauty and intelligence, Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War II. The nurse Hana, exhausted by death, obsessively tends to her last surviving patient. Caravaggio, the thief, tries to reimagine who he is, now that his hands are hopelessly maimed. The Indian sapper Kip searches for hidden bombs in a landscape where nothing is safe but himself. And at the center of his labyrinth lies the English patient, nameless and hideously burned, a man who is both a riddle and a provocation to his companions—and whose memories of suffering, rescue, and betrayal illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning.


“A love story is not about those who lost their heart but about those who find that sullen inhabitant who, when it is stumbled upon, means the body can fool no one, can fool nothing—not the wisdom of sleep or the habit of social graces. It is a consuming of oneself and the past.”

The English Patient won the 1992 Man Booker Prize and I was recommended by Leon from Bookalicious to try out this book. I was even told by some of my friends that this book is a classic and a must read. But to be honest, this book may not be my cup of tea.

We follow the story of 4 characters with damaged pasts who got together in a villa. The setting of the story is at the end of World War II and these characters have suffered a lot, either mentally or physically, due to the War. Michael Ondaatje also did a great job in describing the aftermath of a war in this book with his beautiful writing style. I have no problems with Ondaatje’s characterization of these 4 characters. They have their own unresolved issues. They have their own memories and past which they can’t let go of. Their interaction is interesting to read as well.

My main issue with this book is the writing style. I admit, the language is very beautiful, poetic and flowery. But its a bit too flowery to me and sometimes, very philosophical. Even the conversation between the characters are flowery at times. I don’t think people converse with each other by using such flowery language. At times I really don’t get the innuendos and had to re-read some pages to fully get into it. And because such poetic writing style, certain parts of the story are rather draggy. This is a major problem to me. I think a balance should be achieved between using a flowery language and maintaining the pacing and plot line of the story. The language should not overtake the pacing of the story.

I’ll only rate The English Patient 7/10 star. But, if you are a reader who enjoys reading poetic literary fiction, and appreciate flowery writing styles, The English Patient is definitely a book that you must check out!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Paul's Picks says:

    Excellent review!

    I was on an Ondaatje kick several years ago and read all his works. I think I need to go back and read The English Patient again soon.


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