A more sentimental man

Michael Ondaatje’s late style

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)...