In On Late Style, the book Edward Said was writing at the end of his life, he describes how the work and thought of great artists “acquires a new idiom” near the end of their lives. For Said, lateness isn’t a temporal category, but a fork in the road. One path leads to serene works characterized by a sense of harmony, which evince a reconciled artist. The other path is a bleak revolution. Characterized by intransigence, difficulty, contradiction, and irony, this form of lateness confronts one’s illusions about oneself and one’s own life; the art produced in this clear-eyed stage is the harvest of a newly vexed terrain.
It’s worth considering the implications of the novels that constitute Michael Ondaatje’s late style. Ondaatje, of course, has won a Booker Prize (1992’s The English Patient), a Giller Prize (Anil’s Ghost in 2000), and five Governor General’s Awards (in fiction and poetry)...
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