Jon Raymond at the Bookforum finds it difficult to describe this work of great magic and beauty:
Divisadero finds Ondaatje in familiar form, which is to say eloquent, finely tuned form. It’s undoubtedly a novel, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to describe. How to capture its strange outline? A colorfully shingled birdhouse (the stories overlap and the book is filled with birdsong)? A daisy chain? A diptych of triptychs? Suffice it to say, the tale wends a crooked path, which is part of its great magic and beauty.
He also has this to say about sex in Ondaatje’s novels, in general, and Divisadero, in particular:
The waiting is definitely good for one thing, though, and that’s giving Ondaatje’s characters plenty of time to romance one another. Ondaatje is a very sexy writer and understands well the ins and outs of the courtly-love relationship, i.e., the only good love object is the love object that belongs to someone else—a neighbor’s wife, preferably, or an adoptive sibling. In Divisadero, the French novels that Lucien and Marie- Neige devour as teenagers provide a sentimental education that is clearly also Ondaatje’s own, full of lessons on the geometries of triangulation and the chemistries of unrequited yearning. The romantic moods he paints can be languid—lovers holding hands in a creek bed—or angry, but it is almost always through the small intimacies of sex that some new kind of understanding develops. Anna uses both Coop and Raphael to advance herself spiritually; Coop finds a junkie chanteuse who becomes his own addiction; Lucien, after much pining, turns to Marie-Neige, but only after he’s married someone else and the stakes have properly risen. Through sex, the personal fits into the historical, and the past is transformed. The horror of war, which is the omnipresent backdrop in Ondaatje’s universe, is endured.
Karen Vanuska at Open Letters also has plenty of things to say about sex in Divisadero:
What Divisadero lacks in humor, it makes up for with sex. In amongst all those evocative images, there is an awful lot of sex for such a slim novel. By the thirtieth page, Anna and Coop have not only grown up, but they’ve fallen in love, had sex multiple times and been torn from each other’s arms by Anna’s father. It took Emily Bronte nearly all of Wuthering Heights to accomplish what Ondaatje does in thirty pages.
Years later, after Anna has run away and grown up, she is staying in the house of the French poet Lucian Segura while writing his biography. It is here she meets Rafael who becomes the lover who helps Anna to finally put Coop’s ghost in its rightful grave. Sex between Anna and Rafael feels quite traditional, but leaves us with one too many images of Rafael – the potbellied middle-aged musician – standing naked and proud before open windows.
Sex between Coop and Bridget feels dangerous, trapped between the smoky rooms of film noir and the back-alley world of the drug addicted. Coop discovers too late that Bridget is part of a scheme to get him to return to his poker-cheating ways. When Coop refuses to help her and her partners, he is injected with a drug overdose. Claire discovers Coop, but too late to help him. He is irreversibly brain damaged. One can say that sex had been his undoing.
Sex between Roman and Marie-Neige, neighbors of Lucien Segura, reads like the rutting of two animals and often takes place on the same blue table that Segura takes from Marie-Neige’s house after she dies, and the same blue table at which Anna writes Segura’s biography.
Sex between Lucien’s pregnant daughter and her brother-in-law Pierre sounds like it comes from the pages of a modern-day romance novel, complete with outdoor garden shower and slim white buttocks. It’s as though the sex scenes – always briefly and artfully rendered – are offered to the reader as a reward for suffering the often overwhelming travails of Divisadero’s characters.
The premise of Vanuska’s piece is the following:
When reading Ondaatje, we must gather up the strands of character and plot, follow a veiled set of instructions, paying special attention to subtle transitions in the text, and weave an intricate web of story. That story will lead us into a world filled with much sorrow, perseverance, sex, and bouts of joy. Divisadero’s rewards are well worth the effort of assembly.
And then, she proceeds to take the pieces and assemble it for us.
Both pieces are worth reading (and, I am sure will make you go looking for a copy of Divisadero). Happy reading!
PS:- While Abi is still trying to push his rating to R, with this single post, I managed to make mine R