“Most of the time in our world, truth is opinion.” – pg 101, Anil’s Ghost
In the chaos of war-torn Sri Lanka in the 1980’s, a Sri Lankan born forensic anthropologist trained in Britain and America, returns to her homeland on behalf of a human rights group and teams up with an archaeologist to solve the mysteries of unidentified skeletons, as likely to be remains from an ancient burial site as they are to be the recently desecrated and burned corpses of victims of terrorism left in a jungle ditch.
While reading Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, a novel so rich in immutable sadness and beauty I’m not even sure what happened at the end, only that it was beautiful and sad and unforgettable like the very best and weird dreams are, I started to think about the run Ondaatje was on when he published it. Most artists are lucky if they produce one great work in their lifetime, and the masters can typically eek out three great works if they are prolific enough over many decades. It’s absolutely staggering to think that Anil’s Ghost came directly on the heels of In the Skin of a Lion and The English Patient. There is absolutely no doubt that this tryptic represents Ondaatje at the very height of his literary prowess, and his ability to churn out these three masterpieces one right after the other is something of a miracle. How many novelists or film auteurs have performed this hat trick, having produced their three greatest works sequentially? I scanned across my favorite authors and filmmakers to see if anyone matched Ondaatje (realizing of course this would be a highly subjective exercise based on my own opinions), and I would dare my fellow writers, readers, and film buffs to do the same and see what they come up with… Graham Greene – arguably his three greatest works, Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and The End of the Affair, had multiple works churned out in between.
William Faulkner – The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying…and….The Sanctuary? Nope, then came Light in August.
Toni Morrison – Beloved, Jazz…two more novels, and then A Mercy.
Alfred Hitchcock – like his literary counterpart Graham Greene, he was just too prolific…though one could make a strong case that in the twilight of his career he finally scored his hat trick with Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho.
Stanley Kubrick – did he score his hat trick with 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon one right after the other? I would argue no, as I was never that sold on A Clockwork Orange and prefer The Shining.
Who would you argue scored the rare literary or cinematic hat trick?