All my life I loved travelling at night, with a companion, each of us discussing and sharing the known and familiar behaviour of the other. It’s like a villanelle, this inclination of going back to events in our past, the way the villanelle’s form refuses to move forward in linear development, circling instead at those familiar moments of emotion. Only the rereading counts, Nabokov said. So the strange form of that belfry, turning onto itself again and again, felt familiar to me. For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.
Am still trying to understand how I end up “reviewing” Ondaatje’s works. For most parts I don’t even know what he’s talking about (I had to look up villanelle!), the plot is generally not there, and you don’t know what the heck he’s going towards. In most cases, he isn’t going anywhere, just showing you parts of something at different points, not even linearly, and asking “Do you see? Do you? Do you?”, and noting with a sigh and a shake of his head that you don’t, shuffles back to the backroom to get you more to see, hoping that this would do. While repeating this charade, there comes a time when he smiles apologetically – there is this appointment that he has to keep, and would you be kind enough to excuse him? There’s no option but to move on, taking everything you saw and hoping to put it all together later. And it happens over time, sometimes guided by the clues, sometimes by life and your own experiences. But it will!
That’s always, for me, the beauty of Ondaatje’s art, to not reveal much now, but to have things unravel slowly in your mind. What you get, mostly, are glimpses into your own childhood and sometimes your adulthood, piecing them together, to see how the dots connected from that point to what you’re now and to which dot it will lead to, and how it made sense that these dots had to be connected. There is no other way for you to go from this dot to this and then this, and not get to that other one there!