I’ve been meaning to read the English Patient for some time now, but kept pushing it to the back of my shelf. I know it is widely considered a fantastic book, a modern masterpiece by many, but it wasn’t until a few days ago I actually decided to pick it up. I was not disappointed in the slightest. The English Patient is an incredibly moving, deeply beautiful story that is very much deserving of all the praise.
The English Patient tells the story of four people, who in the immediate wake of World War II, end up living in an abandoned, dilapidated villa in Italy. There is Hana, a young military nurse, who has nothing to go back to after losing everything in the war; Caravaggio, her shady family friend, who seeks her out at the villa; Kip, a young sapper who’s spent the entire war diffusing bombs, and the eponymous english patient, a mysterious man, burned beyond recognition, whom Hana stayed to care for long after everyone else shipped out.
The story shifts settings through flashbacks, recounting the rich histories of some of the characters. Caravaggio, with the help of some morphine, encourages the English patient to tell his story: his exploration of the African Desert, and his great, doomed love affair with Katharine Clifton. The story also shows us Kip’s past in England, and delves deep into the psyche of these extremely damaged characters.
The entire book is riveting not only because of the intriguing narrative, but Ondaatje’s spectacularly beautiful prose. The writing is deeply poetic, and moving but never over the top. It is a thought-provoking novel, and I found myself stopping often either thinking about the story, or marveling at the incredible prose.
As soon as I finished the English Patient, I immediately wanted to pick it up again. To dive back in to the beautiful language and moving story. Ondaatje has truly created a masterpiece, and a book I will savor for years to come.