Thursday, July 7, 2011

5th Annual Canadian Book Challenge Review #1: Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

I've sorely neglected Canadian literature in the past, and ever since I stumbled across this reading challenge (not too long ago), I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to read the unopened Canadian books on my shelves. To start off, I picked up a book - Divisadero - by a very talented writer that I know I ought to pay more attention to: Michael Ondaatje. As the winner of the 2007 Governor General's Literary Awards, I thought that this would be an excellent way to begin catching up on my Canadian reading.

I could go on and on about what I found interesting in the plot, setting, etc., because on those kinds of scores, there are plenty of things I could say in the book's favour. However, what I found most interesting was actually a quote that Ondaatje includes twice: once on the first page, and once a few pages away from the end. It is from Friedrich Nietzsche, and it reads, "We have art so that we shall not be destroyed by the truth." Indeed, the truth threatens to destroy the lives of many of the novel's characters. It is a constant reminder of their shortcomings and their mistakes; their personal truths are things to be escaped, not embraced. The best-adjusted character in the novel - in the spirit of the Nietzsche quote - is the writer Lucien Segura, whose story takes up most of the third part of the novel (it is written in 3 parts). His complicated attraction to the married woman living next door, while trying to maintain good relations with her husband, is a force that does not destroy him, because by the end of the novel, it becomes the source of some of his most brilliant work. By contrast, the three main characters of the first half of the novel - Anna, Claire, and Coop - are transient, eager to escape their own pasts in whatever ways they can. However, I don't think that any of them ever fully come to terms with the tragic event that shattered their youth (I won't give it away in case you haven't read the book). Because they are not artists, they cannot manipulate the past events of their lives in ways that make sense to them.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel; it was an excellent way to begin my return to the wonderful world of Canadian books.


  1. Michael Ondaatje and Alice Munro are Canada's 2 most respected authors that I just can't get into. I'm glad you, and others, like them but I've given up trying.

  2. Though I've read and enjoyed M.O.'s poetry, I haven't read any of his novels. I really ought to give Divisadero a go, glad to hear you enjoyed your first pick for the 5thCBC!