With the exception of Seinfeld’s Elaine (what did she know about romance anyway?), most filmgoers loved the 1996 adaptation of Sri Lankan-born Ondaatje’s novel. So when those fans cracked open the novel, they were surprised to find dense, intricate and highly sophisticated prose; most gave up on page 2. Reader: try again. Ondaatje is a poet (I mean that as a profession, as well as a compliment); his words need to be slowly rolled around in your mouth before digesting. You’ll also find that the film failed to develop the secondary storyline, involving Kip, a Sikh member of the British Army who dismantles bombs. His relationship with Hana, the young Canadian nurse, in the abandoned villa-cum-military hospital is a good counter to the hot desert love affair of Katharine and Count Almasy. The good news is once you’re done, there’s Ondaatje’s In the Skin of the Lion, the prequel which describes Hana’s early life and gives some background on that shifty thief and morphine addict, Caravaggio.
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