I was recently given a copy of Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero. While many of the books I acquire go directly onto a shelf – even library books sometimes – I had just finished my last novel and decided to start into this gift right away. I have read and loved many of Ondaatje’s earlier books, especially The Cinnamon Peeler (poetry) and Running in the Family (memoir). For whatever reason, it’s been years since I’ve read any of his work. I didn’t realize how much I missed him until I started (and rapidly finished) this, his latest novel.
As mentioned in other posts, Ondaatje’s prose is very poetic. His language is rich and his ideas are deep. The book follows three characters raised by a single father on a farm in California (brought together by tragedy rather than blood), and explores ideas of family, identity, and love (for self and others and the connections therein). The point of view moves between Anna, Claire and Coop, and while the lives they lead are rather different, Ondaatje’s style allows for a captivating narrative. The only times I was pulled out of the story was by a beautiful line or an honesty that reached beyond the specific – I had a similar experience reading The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels (another Canadian poet and novelist), and made sure to keep a pen and paper nearby.
And it wasn’t just Anne Michaels’ work that I was reminded of. The California setting conjured images similar to those I pictured while reading Steinbeck. And the sadness that befalls this family, and the space given to reflect on this, reminded me of Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron (interestingly, I learned of this title through researching another Canadian poet, John Thompson).
If you like descriptive, character-driven stories, this one is a sure bet. Other authors (and titles) with a similar literary style include*:
Italo Calvino (If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler)
Nathan Englander (For the Relief of Unbearable Urges and Ministry of Special Cases)
Ian McEwan (The Comfort of Strangers, Amsterdam, Saturday and Atonement)
Heidi Julavits (The Uses of Enchantment)
* from Now Read This III: a guide to mainstream fiction, by Nancy Pearl and Sarah Statz Cords