Saturday, 8 October 2011

Divisadero: Michael Ondaatje

I love Michael Ondaatje's writing - lose myself in the prose like a horse rolling in the grass -  lost also in admiration of the close accumulation of detail that builds a fictional fabric you can almost put out your hand to touch.   Every object has a history - every character a genetic code.

Divisadero is Spanish for divided/division - and the novel concerns a loose collection of individuals, only two of whom are genetically connected:   a father who is a widowed farmer, Anna - his motherless daughter,  Claire - an orphaned baby brought from the hospital to be reared with her,  and Cooper - the son of murdered neighbours taken in by Anna's father, who works on their farm, both like and not like a brother.   They operate just like a family, but when Anna is 16 there's a wreck  - the group falls apart and their lives spin off in other directions.   The father is left to manage the farm alone as they become Coop the gambler, Claire the legal detective, Anna the writer, and the second part of the book follows the threads of their now separate lives.

Anna is in France, researching the life of the French author Segura, his wives and lovers, the strange gypsy 'family' he adopts - a web of relationships and broken families whose stories are compelling.  Segura's story forms the third part of the novel which makes parallels with the first.   Families, Ondaatje seems to be saying, are made, not born, and genetic connections are perhaps less important than we think.  In the end we're all alone in pursuit of our own lives.  We're all orphans.

I haven't quite worked it all out yet - the structural pattern the author's drawn - which is obviously deliberate, but isn't completely clear to me.   This is one to read again when there's less going on in my life.  Somewhere in all the interruptions - putting it down to pack boxes and drive on/off car ferries or revise Italian grammar - I feel I've missed some important point in the novel that would have made it all clear.  Dove Grey Reader identifies the Eureka moment as being on page 142, but there are no page numbers on Kindle .......   and maybe I did get the point, maybe I'm just looking for more significance or structural coherence than there is - Ondaatje is a writer who, after all, likes to play with form and genre.

The New York Times Reviewer  (Erica Wagner) called it 'a series of narratives that calls itself, perhaps for convenience’ sake, a novel ....... three tales loosely braided together like slack rope'.  Erica is also seduced by the poetry - 'He is a poet as much as (or even more than) he is a novelist, and the crosscurrents of his writing flow and ripple against each other as poems might.'    And, after all, what do you expect from a novel called 'Division'?

At the moment I'm happy to have read it for the characters and their stories and the prose that is almost poetry.   And it's on my re-read list for the next bout of flu, or anything else that keeps me in bed long enough to need it!

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit that I have not read any of Michael Ondaatje's writings and I feel embarrassed that I came to your blog and read this, I will buy this book and read it!