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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Reader's Diary #215- Michael Ondaatje: Secular Love (FINISHED!)

My first experience with Michael Ondaatje was reading In The Skin Of A Lion after it won the very first Canada Reads competition back in 2002. I wasn't crazy about his writing then, and things haven't changed.

Normally, I concurrently read two books at a time. A novel or nonfiction book and a poetry book. This is the first time the former has overshadowed the latter. Maybe it's a compliment to O'Neill that I just wanted to read Lullabies for Little Criminals, or maybe it's an insult to Ondaatje that I just didn't want to read Secular Love.

While I was still reading Lullabies, I kept thinking how completely unremarkable Secular Love was. Then, as I finished Lullabies first and was left all alone with Secular Love, I realized that wasn't the case. Ondaatje's book was just as remarkable, but maybe not in as many good ways.

My biggest issue with his poetry is the hyperbole. I know it's sometimes human nature to exaggerate the importance of our experiences. When we're listening to great music, it feels like the stars have aligned. When our hearts get broken, the Earth stops rotating. And so on. Still, I hoped such a respected author as Ondaatje would be above that. But no. When describing a Fats Waller recording, he asks, "What else of importance happened on May 8th, 1935?". Describing his lover's grim expression, he writes, "her mouth forever as horizon". In moderation such lines might not seem excessive. They might even have some poetic merit (especially the mouth as horizon line). But with so many over-the-top references to the universe, time, and so forth I started to suspect and resent that I was living in Ondaatje's world instead of my own. I began to fear that he'd stub his toe and the Earth would be sent spiralling into the sun.

For all that, he did have occasional lines that I did enjoy. A favourite was "These country hearts, a county conspiracy." I love the use of "country" and "county". Same word, except the latter is missing an "r". Why? (It's a conspiracy)

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Whew! Im sure glad you made it through that book without the earth spiralling out of control. That would have been bad.

I had a hard time getting totally immersed in In the Skin of a Lion as well.