Michael Ondaatje's new novel, Divisadero, will be released at the end of May.
Years ago, when I was messing round in my undergrad, maybe a year or two out of High School, I read Coming Through Slaughter. I don't remember the course now. I don't remember most of the courses I took back then--I suspect a lot of people end up like that. At any rate, I liked University for the reading, partly because I was--and remain so--dreadfully under read, and it can be difficult to get out of your particular habits, especially when faced with a wall of books that are defined by genre. I read a lot of shit at Uni, make no mistake, but reading something you don't like isn't a bad thing; I sometimes wonder where that idea that we have to like everything we read comes from. At any rate, it was in the literature of this time that I came across Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter, and had one of those tiny, profound moments where parts of your head open up to a world of new possibilities. You know what I'm talking about. We've all had it, one way or another.
It was, in part, the beauty and versatility of its prose--
"He was the best and the loudest and most loved jazzman of his time, but never professional in the brain. Unconcerned with the crack of the lip he threw out and held immense notes, could reach a force on the first note that attacked the eat. He was obsessed with the magic of the air, those smells that turned neuter as they revolved in his lung then spat out in the chosen key. The way the side of his mouth would drag and net of air in and dress in notes and make it last and last, yearning to leave it up there in the sky like air transformed into cloud. He could see the air, could tell where it was freshest in a room by the colour."
--but mostly, it was the passion, and the way that jumped, and slithered, and wrapped itself around the prose, and the story of Buddy Bolden, the jazz player. Everything in the book felt so natural. So easy. I suppose it was an author thing.
Have I liked subsequent Ondaatje novels as much as Coming Through Slaughter? No. It's kind of impossible to match that first burst, but I have liked them, though I must admit, I have never read The English Patient, which is perhaps Ondaatje's most well known book. The reason for that is simple: at the time the film was released, I was working as a projectionist, and I must have ran that film for four months, which will has, in many ways, left me with a whole set of images that I don't want when I read the book. So one day. But while I have not responded to any Ondaatje novel as I did that first, I have liked them, enjoyed them, relished the way his words fall on the page, and the quiet, intense passion of the lives he creates (or recreates) emerges within his book. The truth is, no matter what he writes, I'm there for Ondaatje, even if I don't plan to read the book for a while, and to let it sit, quietly for a few months, maybe a year, while the years between his books come and go.