Being rehabilitated by the ‘Patient’
Not a single novel currently existing on the earth at the moment provides a better prototype for the perfect piece of literature for the next generation of writers to model their own works by than The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje . The ways that Ondaatje incorporates realistic geographical information dictates the course of the plot and this is not readily seen in other works of fiction, while in young writers is often a weak point. In some ways, the most effective way to evoke feelings in the audience of a fictional text is to place tragic events of real origin into the piece of literature, this is why his use of real history is so effective. This tactic encourages the reader to travel with these fictional characters and even emulate the emotions they experience. As well, in certain types of literature the use of literary devices is expected, however, the percentage that can adopt and incorporate this practice effectively is limited. Lastly, another valuable aspect of Ondaatje’s writing is his ability to mix fantasy and fact. While Ondaatje uses factual information from geographical and historical aspects of life, he still finds a way to seamlessly embed aspects of a fictional dramatic fairytale to engage the reader. Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient scores high in all four of the categories of writing that have been mentioned: the inclusion of geographical description, relation to real historical events, the effective use of literary devices, and the merging of reality and fairytale features. It is these literary aspects of Ondaatje’s writing that make The English Patient worth its weight in literary gold.
While many pieces of literature are linear, Ondaatje presents a peculiar third dimension in his work: real geographical information. This third dimension presents real physical obstacles for the fictional characters involved to overcome. In The English Patient, Catherine Clifton, the wife of a desert explorer, is injured from a plane crash, but is saved by Count Almasy, a desert explorer who is now the english patient. He carries her dying body to the “Cave of Swimmers”. This cave is in the Egyptian desert and is described as having cave paintings depicting people swimming located in the Gilf Kebir plateau of the Egyptian desert which is also spoken of by name. In reality, this cave is in the exact location specified in the text, this is verified by this quote “On the western side of the Gilf Kebir is the area of the Wadi Sura, which has around twenty sites with examples of prehistoric rock art, the most famous being the Cave of Swimmers”(Siliotti 14). This is one example of the realistic physical geography that Ondaatje uses to create his “third dimension”. Not only is he able to do this, by using realistic places, he touches the emotions of the reader. These real locations and distances between them keep Ondaatje authentic and evoke emotions in characters that rarely show emotion otherwise. Count Almasy demonstrates the emotions of what this geographical world does to him. He says, “I have spent weeks in the desert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife. These are not sins of omission but signs of pre-occupation” (Ondaatje 4). Almasy would have certainly not spoken these words if not for Ondaatje keeping himself accountable by using real geography in his work, this is proof that Ondaatje’s use of real geography evokes emotion in the reader.
Historical references and plots with real historical basis provide a genuine atmosphere to the literature that includes them. Ondaatje incorporates one of the biggest taboo subjects, World War 2, one in which millions are killed, so the majority of readers can connect to his piece and can have real emotions while reading. The entire plot revolves around pre-war espionage and post-war repercussions. In a pivotal chapter in the book, Kip, a British Military Bomb Disposal Specialist, is drawn into an abandoned villa where Hana, the nurse taking care of the patient, and the english patient reside. If not for the war and his training, Kip would not have been near the villa and he would also not have barged into the villa to dismantle the hidden mine on the piano being played by Hana. Including factual World War II information in this story, allows for more meaningful and thoughtful relatability. Hana recited the following words while thinking of the oncoming war,“Reason was the only thing that might save them, and there was no reason. The thermometer of blood moved up the country. Where was and what was Toronto anymore in her mind? This was treacherous opera. People hardened against those around them – soldiers, doctors, nurses, civilians” (Ondaatje 50). One cannot help but compare the personalities of the characters from the glimpses of them pre-war and before their isolation and to after the war, where they are hollow shells of their former self, thus alluding to actual World War II. By making fictional characters go through things that people in reality went through, allows for a more realistic feel. Ondaatje makes the reader feel an unparalleled connection to the characters by using historic events that really occurred and putting his characters through these situations to invoke emotions in the reader.