THE ENGLISH PATIENT
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BY MICHAEL ONDAATJE
The English Patient, having won the Booker Prize in 1992, has just won the 2018 Golden Booker Award, so it is the perfect time to read or revisit this wonderful book. A cravat however, is that you have not read it yet but have seen the iconic Oscar winning film; it takes a while to push these images out of your head.
The book is set in San Girolamo Villa, 20 miles outside Florence in Italy as WWII has come to an end, the villa having been used as a military hospital. Hana, a Canadian nurse has refused to return with her colleagues and opted to look after a severely burnt and nameless “Englishman” in this rundown Italian villa. She is joined by Kip, a Sikh sapper working for the British army and Caravaggio, a thief and friend of Hana’s father who also works for the intelligence service. Through this unlikely union of characters the backstory develops.
Everyone in the Den was mesmerised by this book. It is a beautiful and sensual novel, which skilfully transports you into the intriguing and different lives of these 4 individuals. They all share a sense of sadness and loneliness in the world, but are drawn to each other by the random circumstances of war. As the story develops we learn about the deep love story between The English Patient and Katherine, a wife of one his friends during their time working in the desert in Egypt. He falls in love with her after hearing her recite poetry “That night I fell in love with a voice.” Alongside this is Kit, who forged out his path as a gifted bomb disposal expert.
There are some magical scenes between all of them and just when you think they are beginning to understand each other, move forward from previous mistrust and all be on the same page, Kit hears some news which forces him to leave suddenly and crush these special relationships.
This is an iconic novel, which any book club should read. The pace of the novel is exquisite and the images linger long in the memory.
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