Recommendation: A wonderful, thin book that I borrowed from my sister and now have to buy so I can bathe in its poetic majesty. The narrative jumps into a lot of different perspectives and it does border between poetry and literature, but don’t let that hold you back, you should get your hands on this.
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As I say in the recommendation, I need to get my own copy of Coming Through Slaughter so I can take a slower pace through it and enjoy Ondaatje’s poetic phrases. My first read came the day before boarding a flight, so I had only about 24 hours to cruise through this baby. If you just want the meat, it can be an extremely quick read. It’s just over 150 pages with long paragraph breaks and lots of white space so if you’re a big-book-aphobe (a problem that I suffer from occasionally) this will feel like a refreshing shot of hot sake.
The meat is pretty delicious, too. Coming Through Slaughter provides the establishing mythology for New Orleans Jazz by giving a fictional biography of cornetist Buddy Bolden. Bolden is one of the real-life founders of jazz music and Ondaatje draws a good amount from Bolden’s life while adding his own flair. The story is told from many perspectives and provides a little a peck of mystery as you piece together the information into a complete tale.
Bolden is a charismatic figure, and even though you know where the story finishes you spend most of your time rooting for Bolden to lock himself in his room and hide from the history books. But the most enthralling aspect of Coming Through Slaughter is the prose. Ondaatje began his career as a poet and used Coming Through Slaughter to serve as a bit of a stepping stone into the world of novels. It shows in all the right ways. Despite the changing point-of-view and shifting paragraph length, Ondaatje develops rhythms that are absorbingly pleasant. Bolden would be proud as Ondaatje’s narrative evokes all the sliding, shaking, and swerving that Jazz music embodies.
I’ll take a page from Ondaatje and keep this review short, but I might have a Coming Through Slaughter part deux once I get a chance to examine the prose more closely.