Alice and Clara

on 04 February 2010

Years ago I read In the Skin of the Lion by Michael Ondaatje.  I love Michael Ondaatje, he's one of those writers whom I would read anything he's ever written.  I started with the English Patient and worked my way backwards.

In the Skin of the Lion features three...well, maybe four main characters.  Alice, Clara, Patrick and Caravaggio.  Alice has a daughter, 9 year old Hana (the English Patient picks up her story and how Caravaggio rejoins it), Patrick falls in love with Clara but then Clara disappears and Alice finds him and takes care of him.  In the midst of all of this, and before Clara takes off, he spends time with the two women together.  No, not sexually, he's more of an observer, and audience to their friendship.

Spoiler Alert!

And after Alice dies, Clara returns to take her daughter and raises her as her own.

There is a passage in the novel that I've often read and loved.  It's one of those passages that you read and feel as though you could settle for it on your tombstone (except it's a bit long).

There was a wall in him that no one reached.  Not even Clara, though she assumed it had deformed him.  A tiny stone swallowed years back that had grown with him and which he carried around because he could not shed it.  His motive for hiding it had probably extinguished itself years earlier...Patrick and his small unimportant stone.  It had entered him at the wrong time in his life.  Then it had been a flint of terror.  He could have easily turned aside at the age of seven or twenty, and just spat it out and kept on walking, and forgotten it by the next street corner.

So we are built.

I love that.  I suppose because I have my own small unimportant stones, stones that have built the walls in my head and my heart.  I have been confronted by friends who felt that the stones deformed me.  I could also have turned aside at earlier ages and set it down and walked away.  But now I find that I am built of these stones and I fear to set them down, after all, won't I crumble to dust if there is nothing hard and solid holding me together?

These walls, these small unimportant stones, they comfort me.  I feel safer with them about me, though I know they keep people at arm's length.  It provides me with my own Medea division--I know the evil I am doing to myself and yet am powerless to stop myself.  I have let people behind them, upon occasion, but I find it makes me nervous.  The walls themselves are impressive edifices, but behind them...well, there's nothing very grand.  Just plain ol' boring me.  Too many books, too much silence, too many thoughts and not enough practicality to be useful.


Kim B said...

You have a gift for saying what other people feel, but can't say. You are wonderful. I am glad that you haven't given up on your blog. It is wonderful.

Bird said...

"Not enough practicality to be useful." Oh, I highly doubt that. Don't be so hard on yourself, some of us like "plain ol' you" with your good book recommendations and funny stories. And from someone else who also lives behind walls, its nice to see you poke over them to drop us a post. We like them. We like you.

Sibley Saga .... said...

I like to think of us as neighbors. The kind that stand at the 'walls' or fences that divide our homes and gossip, chit chat, share recipes or whatever. We retreat into our houses behind those walls when we need to, but love to 'visit' at the fences that divide.

Matthew said...

Okay - don't put this on the blog, but I am reading with Joshua on my lap and while reading Alice and Clara he says "Oh - that's a chick flick". I totally laughed out loud!!!!