Michael Ondaatje is a pain in the ass to read. He’s all over the place, throwing in a profound quote here and there, barely scraping together a narrative. You know he’s a tough writer to follow when even my mom, a prolific and highly intelligent reader, says she struggled with The English Patient. I remember barely getting through it in high school, because not only was it impossible to follow but by the end, I didn’t care enough. To Ondaatje’s credit, Coming Through Slaughter is a step up from The English Patient, mostly because it’s plot is far more intriguing than any basic WWII doomed love story could be. Ondaatje is actually really skillful in how he creates a narrative of the life of Buddy Bolden, an actual person whose life is mostly a mystery to historians. It’s all the more interesting when the book goes into Bolden’s mental illness and unparalleled, but never recorded, skill as a jazz musician.
Though it’s an interesting premise, Ondaatje continues to struggle with the follow through. I’m all for a non-linear, even a shredded plot line, but at the end of the day it has to make sense. Coming Through Slaughter made soooome sense by the end, but at the end of the day it’s annoying to have to chase a plot line that doesn’t really care how much you get out of it. It feels like Ondaatje disregards the reader for the sake of making art, and while that’s admirable, it doesn’t always make for a good book.