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Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje

06/04/2011
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Hard to select favourite lines from a favourite book, but these were the images that particularly struck me when I first read them. This semi-autobiographical novel documents Ondaatje’s journey back to the Ceylon of his parents and grandparents. In my own work I’m interested in the (in)capacity of language to capture experience, which is probably why I dog-eared these pages.

I’d driven that Jeep so often I didn’t have time to watch the country slide by thick with event, for everything came directly to me and passed me like snow. (p 70)

 

I witnessed everything. One morning I would wake and just smell things for the whole day, it was so rich I had to select senses.


[On recording peacock noises] Now, and here, Canadian February, I write this in the kitchen and play that section of cassette to hear not just peacocks but all the noises of the night behind them – inaudible then because they were always there, like breath. In this silent room (with its own unheard hum of fridge, fluorescent light) there are these frogs loud as river, gruntings, the whistle of birds brash and sleepy, but in that night so modest behind the peacocks they were unfocussed by the brain – nothing more than  darkness, all those sweet loud younger brothers of the night. (p. 136)

 

Across the valley, a waterfall stumbles down. In a month or two the really hard rains will come for eighteen hours a day and that waterfall will once again become tough as a glacier and wash away the road. But now it looks as delicate as the path of a white butterfly in a long-exposed photograph. (p. 167)

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