Ondaatje's characters dwell in a layered, ever-deepening past
by Michael Ondaatje
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Somewhere between 1992’s The English Patient and the new Divisadero, Michael Ondaatje’s 1970 book, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, switched columns on the “also by” page from fiction to poetry. Why the belated change? It’s a small revision, true, but an interesting one, and in some ways a succinct, real-life example of Ondaatje’s major literary preoccupations, namely, the power of memory to complete past experience and the way time’s echoes occasionally shake something unexpected loose.
Ondaatje’s early books are feral, unclassifiable things—imagistic, fragmentary, composed under the druggy influence of New Wave cinema, Romantic poetry, and dada collage. Full of jump cuts and odd juxtapositions, the text floats in aureoles of white space, in danger at all times of tearing apart at the seams. Billy the Kid
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