Michael Ondaatje specialises in hauntings. He has no time for the ordinary. His last novel, The English Patient, won the Booker Prize, and no one who read it – or saw Anthony Minghella’s film – will ever forget the Icarus-like figure at its centre. I admired the novel, but with reservations. I felt, without quite being able to put my finger on it, that there was something bogus about Ondaatje. A softness about the narrative? Something precious about the writing? In particular, I mutinied against the routine claim that he is a poet in prose.
Anil’s Ghost, about which there is tremendous excitement and some complacency from his publishers, is his fourth novel. It has taken seven vears to write. This is not surprising, given the intensive research that has evidently gone into it. It is set in Sri Lanka, where Ondaatje was born (though