In the Skin of a Lion

In the Skin of a Lion Summary and Analysis of Book Two, Chapter 2, “Remorse”


This chapter begins with Patrick’s grief after Alice’s death, and ends with how it has changed him. The chapter opens with descriptions and images of him living in their home without her, how the sheets still smell of her, how he will escort the last flowers she brought home into death, and that “he knows he doesn’t have long before he loses the exact memory of her face.”

Patrick takes a train north to Huntsville, and watches the images through the train window. We do not know why he is going there, but we are given details of what he sees along his journey, such as the stewards sitting on the steps of the train polishing shoes at three in the morning and the way they are illuminated in the “yellow spray of the station lamp.”

Patrick then boards the Algonquin steamer, carrying a “fragile suitcase.” He sleeps in a deck chair and observes that the steamer will let all of his fellow passengers off at either the Bigwin Inn or the Muskoka Hotel. He observes that these places are the “playground of the rich.” He knows he will only come to this place once, and not again.

The next section is set in the Garden of the Blind. He sits reading a newspaper in the garden on a bench. In a flashback in his mind, we learn that he set the Muskoka hotel on fire, and then detonated dynamite on the stairs and the dock right as he rowed away, waving to the two rich men who ran after him in confusion.

A blind women in the garden hears his newspaper rustle and tells him she knows he is not blind. She offers to show him around the garden, introducing him to a variety of plants and their scents and character. She feels his face and finds a welt behind his ear, an injury from the explosions he set off. He tells her he is wanted by the police and she laughs. “Don’t resent your life,” she says.

Patrick sits peacefully with Elizabeth in the garden, holding her hand until it slips out of his when she falls asleep. He swims in the night toward a big boat that has music. He swims out of a strong current, past a deadhead that grazes him. He wants to sleep, but he keeps seeing the flames of the hotel in his mind. He is hungry and cold and swimming through weeds.

Finally he gets close enough where he can see the name of the boat: The Cherokee. He pulls himself up and crashes himself headfirst through a window. It is the kitchen of the boat. A cook sees him and Patrick puts a finger over his mouth. The cook silently sweeps up the shattered glass from Patrick’s crash, then leaves Patrick. Patrick takes off his wet clothes and puts them in the oven on low to dry, then he eats potatoes and raw meat from the refrigerator while his clothes dry, keeping an eye on them.


This chapter is the turning point of the novel and the turning point in Patrick’s character arc. He has moved from a quiet observer to an active criminal. The change is sudden and surprising, but it is told slowly in pieces.

The chapter is told in Ondaatje’s style of image fragments and elliptical movement through time. We do not follow a chronology of events. First we are on the train, and then the steamer, and then the Garden of the Blind. The main setting of the action is the Muskoka hotel, but we learn about this only through flashback in Patrick's mind.

Because we do not follow Patrick chronologically to the hotel, we only learn of the violent act he has committed through his own fragments of memory and image. We do not even see him get off the steamer at the hotel, we only see him observe the hotel from the steamer through the trees. The effect of this is to emphasize only what is important to Patrick, not what would be important to a reader following a logical, progressive narrative.

The images that stand out in Patrick’s mind from the explosion at the hotel are: his arm being on fire and his plunging the sleeve of his jacket into an aquarium; the deer heads above him on fire; and the two men who notice him in a rowboat at the dock right before he detonates the fuse to blow up the dock. One of the men jumped into the water, and the other, “his hands on his hips, paused as the blue fizzing ran into the small explosion that separated the dock from the shore.” The personal close-up view of this man through Patrick's eyes gives us this man's helplessness right before he is killed, and it is the last thing that Patrick sees before he rows to Page Island and the Garden of the Blind. In this way, we are fully inside Patrick’s sensory mind, not his thoughts, nor the narrator’s thoughts.

The fact that what becomes important to Patrick in the Garden of the Blind is “not sound but smell,” indicates that Patrick is opening up a new way of being and experiencing the world. The quiet garden full of beautiful flowers and plants, the sweet acceptance of Elizabeth, who laughs away his revelation to her that he is a criminal, all provide a soothing contrast to the violent event Patrick just caused and lived through. We know he did it to avenge Alice’s death, for he keeps remembering Alice’s hatred of wealth and her feeling of unfairness of the rich compared to the poor. He commits this crime even though it seems he will be caught. He is calm when he motions for the cook to be quiet on the Cherokee steamer, and he takes the time to let his clothes dry and enjoy the food he eats, indicating that he is fully willing to endure the consequences of his actions, come what may.