Best known for The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje provides another trademark non-linear narrative, attempting to create a whole out of disparate story strands, but with rather limited success. On a Californian farm, Anna, adopted sister Claire and farmhand Coop are raised by Anna’s father. When he discovers his daughter and Coop together, the family is violently split, and Ondaatje follows each character’s thread from this cataclysmic unravelling.
At times, the author’s prose is breathtakingly visceral with the segments on Coop, who becomes a professional gambler, utterly thrilling. But too often, especially when he deals with Anna who is now a literary academic, there is a ponderous, reflective feel which fails to grab the attention.
Furthermore, the latter parts of the book diverge into the life of her project, a forgotten French poet, and although Ondaatje is clearly trying to create meaningful resonance and echo between his plotlines, you get the feeling it’s all a bit smoke and mirrors.