You can’t go into this novel expecting it to read chronologically. It is a dream, a vignette where the edges have been chipped away, washed away by what is lost to Nathaniel. The brilliance of the novel is its complexity and the connections of maps and people, the same way the author constructs a map for the reader of places and strangers. Also the story itself is just as cloudy and muddled as the protagonist’s mother who is a mystery he is trying to discover throughout the story.
I don’t read Ondaatje’s work because I want to be entertained as much as I want to experience life through the eyes of someone new, and because his prose is delicious. It is like reading Dinesen’s Out of Africa—it all came out of the memory of her experience, as the book drew me in for the words alone and the experience of a life I’ll never know. However, even though I enjoyed the book I didn’t like it as much as The English Patient.