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Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje - Book Review


Anil's Ghost
Michael Ondaatje

Fiction-Net Rating 3 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

In his first novel since 'The English Patient', Michael Ondaatje displays again the richness of imagery and the keen emotional surety that are the hallmarks of his writing.

Anil's Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of the civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to Sri Lanka as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to investigate the organised murder campaigns engulfing the island. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past - a story propelled by a riveting mystery.

We Say

To have only the space of a few hundred words to summarise a book as intricate and complicated as Anil's Ghost is not just difficult, it's downright intimidating. Ondaatje is a poet and a mystic - he cultivates his words and feeds them until they are fat with meaning and symbolism. Like every fragment of bone examined by Anil Tissera, every image has import beyond what it seems and every sensation leads to an emotion. Nothing is what it seems.

Arguably, Anil's Ghost could be perceived as a triumph of style over substance, atmosphere over plot, but that assessment does not allow for the way in which this book gets under your skin. There's so much going on that it takes a while to sink in. Also, the tone of the book is dark and creeping but only so that it can really give you a shock when it wants to.

There is a neat quartet of characters to focus attention on. Firstly, Anil is intelligent and headstrong but also a little lost and displaced. She is surrounded by a trio of men with the common bond of tragic histories and jaded souls from the violence they have encountered in their country. Sarath is the archaeologist Anil works with, Gamini is a doctor and Sarath's brother and Ananda is an alcoholic painter. Tension arises when Anil begins to question who she is able to trust as her knowledge of the brutality around her increases.

Comparisons with Ondaatje's last book, The English Patient, are inevitable and may not be entirely favourable. Anil's Ghost does not necessarily have the same depth or scope as that particular book. Some of the sections were too short and left you wanting to know more. However, the climax is as emotionally gripping as any I have ever read. It is bitter, angry and powerful.

Review by: Rachel Taylor

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