Style and Language - In The Skin of A Lion #
In the Skin of a Lion is written in a post-modern style: elements including things like seeing things through many viewpoints and showing the author’s hand in writing the book, known as metafiction, and a loose episodic structure.
“All his life Patrick Lewis has lived beside novels and their clear stories.” 82.
Metafiction – the power of language
The puppet show illustrates this aptly. On Sunday evenings they meet at an illegal gathering of various nationalities. “the people came in silence”. The migrants lack the language and cultural attributes to give them a voice in society. They are frustrated by their lack of power and influence in mainstream society and their only outlet is to ‘bang on the wooden floor as if to plead for help’. Indeed the purpose of the whole novel is to give a voice to the disenfranchised, the ones who did the work but missed out on getting the credit in nation building; the vast number of inarticulate migrants who form the basis of all developing countries.
As the front piece claims: ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one.’
Contrast of Light and Dark:
This is reinforced by alluding to Caravaggio, the Italian painter who introduced the contrast of light and dark shadows into his paintings.
Finnish loggers* “It was not just the pleasure of skating. They
could have done that during the day. This was against the night.”
Harris* “For Harris the night allowed scope. Night removed the
limitations of detail and concentrated on form.” ** ** *
Temelcoff prefers to sit in the Ohrida Lake Restaurant in the darkness of the room as if he has seen enough of light.”`
“People step out of sunlight and must move slow in the darkness” Pg 36
Alice “She (Alice) realises the darkness represents a Macedonian night where customers sit outside at their tables”, Pg. 37`
Patrick enjoys the solitude of darkness so the last lines of the novel are significant: “Turn on the lights”`
Techniques In The Skin of a Lion: #
References to Nature:
Water – rivers, lakes – ever present – Patrick grew up near a river that tried to claim a cow, used by lumberjacks to transport logs, his father blew up log jams. Later he works on a tunnel for the waterworks, and attempts his escape after torching the Muskoka Hotel along a river.
“A man is an extension of hammer, drill, flame.”
Animals and insects:
“Bugs, plant hoppers, grasshoppers, rust-dark moths. Patrick gazes on these things….” Pg. 9
- first to walk across bridge –
“a net of summer insects over the valley”.
“..when he suddenly focused on a shadow on the glass and saw it was a tree frog” pg. 66
“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.” Pg. 71
The stone is a metaphor for the emotional and psychological barriers within him; it is also a link to Harris’s desk (made of feldspar, which is the same as the rock which Patrick swallowed [in the quote]).
Both Temelcoff and Patrick pride themselves on being able to move in darkness using their innate sense of distance and direction.
Allusions: Biblical: #
“he would be one of the Gadarene Swine“
Patrick realising he is completely captivated by Clara after spending time with her and seeing her with Alice:
“Patrick watches Clara intently – the bones, the planes of lamplight on her face, hair no longer in the way. Follow me, … and he would be one of the Gadarene swine”. Page 73.
The miracle at Gadara (Mark 5:1-13), wherein Jesus exorcised evil spirits from a man and sent them into a herd of about 2000 swine which then ran violently down a steep bank into the sea and drowned.
Judith and the Holofernes - Judith an Israeli widow seduces Holofernes, an Assyrian General and when he is drunk, uses his sword to cut off his head and deliver it to her friends.
An oblique reference to Clara and Alice drawing his likeness when he is asleep.
“He feels more community remembering this than anything in his life. Patrick and the two women. …Judith and the Holofernes, St Jerome and the Lion. Patrick and the two women. He loves the tableau, even though being asleep he had not witnessed the ceremony”. Pg. 79.
St. Jerome and the Lion - A Catholic saint renown for taking a thorn out of a lion’s paw.
These allusions help to illustrate how vulnerable and incapacitated Patrick becomes in the hands of the two women; he was utterly at their beck and call and their mercy.
Men can become utterly helpless under the power of women.
Michael Lawler, a Judge in the Industrial Court fell for Kathy Jackson, a defendant accused of misusing $1.2 M of Union funds, in 2016. After leaving his wife and representing her, he lost his exalted position. His self-described situation:
“I’ll be characterised as that scumbag, crook, fraudster and, at the very best, somebody who’s been bewitched by an evil harridan, namely Kathy; that I’m cunt-struck and that I have been utterly, um, taken in by somebody who is a serious crook.
The most prevailing Allusions are to:
The Epic of Gilgamesh:
The novel quotes generously from and alludes extensively to the world’s oldest extant piece of Literature. `
Summary of Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh is putatively the earliest form of literature extant. He was an historical king of Uruk in Babylonia, on the River Euphrates in modern Iraq; he lived about 2700 B.C. Many stories and myths were written about Gilgamesh, some of which were written down about 2000 B.C. in the Sumerian language on clay tablets which still survive.
Discovered in the late 19th C., The Epic of Gilgamesh is a narrative tale about the friendship between the King of Ur and Enkidu, a feral human. The two strong men who fight over the right of the King to sleep with Enkid’s bride on her first night. When the fight ends in a draw, the two men, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become great friends and travel the world together.`
Clara corresponds to the priestess of the Goddess of Love, Shamhat, a sacred prostitute, who in the Epic of Gilgamesh offers herself to Enkidu, and tames him that way. This young priestess whose name is Shamhat, offers herself to Enkidu, a wild brutalised man, and they make love continuously for seven days. Enkidu is transformed by that experience, and becomes socialised, humanised and empathetic.
It’s a kind of anti-Garden of Eden story, or the opposite of that, where instead of sexuality being a fall, it’s an initiation into what it means to be human.
Stephen Mitchell: (Translator from Los Angeles)
“By becoming human, however, he loses something. He loses his kinship with the animals and the ability to be with them because they’re afraid of him after this experience. But he also gains something. He gains the beginning of self-understanding, and he also gains his great friendship with [Gilgamesh]. It’s the first great friendship in all of literature, because this of course is the first book of literature that we have. So it’s very exciting and only the first in a series of incidents that include the feminine at their court. The whole sexuality of this book and its ability to see things beyond categories of good and evil, is very exciting.
If you’re looking for messages, I think that the message is the book, that it’s an extremely exciting and dramatic and powerful story that has elements of all the great adventure stories.
You could say that it’s dangerous to be in power, that you’re likely to abuse it, and this is a cliché.
It’s the first quest story, it’s a story with an amazingly sophisticated sense of good and evil, and what lies at the core of human existence. One message that it might have for us living where and when we do, is that if you go out to try to rid the world of evil, and destroy monsters, that you’re going to get into a lot of trouble.”