Michael Ondaatje, author

MICHAEL ONDAATJE began his career as a poet. He published his first collection, "The Dainty Monsters", in 1967, and then took nearly a decade before releasing his first novel, "Coming Through Slaughter", in 1976. Although he is better known for his fiction, having won the Booker prize in 1992 for "The English Patient" (which went on to become a successful Hollywood film), his books of poetry outnumber his novels two to one (ie, 12 v six).

His latest novel, "The Cat’s Table", appears to be his most autobiographical (reviewed by The Economist here). Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of an 11-year-old boy’s journey on a ship called the Oronsay travelling from Sri Lanka to England (Ondaatje made just such a passage himself). During the voyage the young boy—also named Michael—befriends two other boys of the same age: a tough guy called Cassius and the timid, philosophical Ramadhin. It’s a coming-of-age story, written in the sensuous prose typical of Ondaatje’s fiction, a richness of language that betrays a poet’s eye and ear.  

Michael Ondaatje spoke to More Intelligent Life about building a novel from a single image, his preference for prose over poetry and why he believes there is an ultimate truth in fiction writing.   

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