In 1824, Walter Scott argued that the epistolary form was unsuitable for creating historical narratives. In contrast, this article argues that Michael Ondaatje, an author not usually associated with the epistolary form, self-consciously uses these epistolary ‘flaws’ in In the Skin of a Lion to create historical narratives that ask the reader how they know, and who they hear. Patrick’s initial role as a ‘searcher’ for a missing millionaire develops into a more significant pursuit of the threads of untold national stories through the letters given to him from the valise of Hana, the daughter of a murdered union activist. Patrick moves from being ‘a searcher gazing into the darkness of his own country’ towards a renewed knowledge of the political history of his nation. Through a complex layering of epistolary conventions, the novel calls upon the reader as epistolary recipient to rethink their present through a critical engagement with Canada’s past.
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