Check out the Pride Celebration Treasure Hunt!
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje

Coming Through Slaughter (1976)

by Michael Ondaatje

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1681710,521 (3.77)48
Recently added byTristis, dl76452, Jambyfool, gallsally, DanielSTJ, lapisebagigi, private library, Dehong
Legacy LibrariesEdward St. John Gorey , Thomas C. Dent
  1. 00
    But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer (Polaris-)
    Polaris-: Both sensitively explore the imagined possibilities behind what facts are known. Their authors both manage to convey an essence of jazz - the agony and the ecstasy.
  2. 00
    M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A : poems by A. Van Jordan (whitewavedarling)
  3. 00
    The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros (whitewavedarling)
    whitewavedarling: Both these novels are built from poetic prose and intoxicating atmospheres of jazz, New Orleans, mystery, and emotion. Maistros' work is of a darker material and allows the supernatural a large part in its' path, but both works are eerily tangible and fascinating once you allow yourself to get sucked in, and the atmospheres are strangely similar, however different the stories are.… (more)
  4. 01
    Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (ShelfMonkey)

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 48 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Michael Ondaatje was already well established as a poet when he published this, a poet's first novel if ever there was one. It's an attempt to recreate the inner life of Buddy Bolden, a cornet player and pioneer of the new kind of American music that would soon become known as jass or jazz. No recordings exist of Bolden's playing, and very little is known of his life beyond the fact that he had a breakdown during a Mardi Gras parade, died years later in a Louisiana asylum, and was thought of by Louis Armstrong and his generation as having started their artistic tradition.

Into this creative vacuum Ondaatje pours his allusive, fluid prose, which darts about between internal monologue, interview snippets, quick conversation scenes, and modern-day investigative reportage. He paints a vivid picture of late-nineteenth-century New Orleans, around the legendary red-light district of Storyville, where ‘2000 prostitutes were working regularly,’ there were ‘at least 70 professional gamblers’ and ‘30 piano players took in several thousand each in weekly tips’. ‘Here the famous whore Bricktop Jackson carried a 15 inch knife,’ Ondaatje tells us, a tour guide asking us to look to our left, ‘and her lover John Miller had no left arm and wore a chain with an iron ball on the end to replace it.’

Like good jazz, the writing is rhythmic and improvisational, transposing viewpoints and images like key changes – and, sometimes, a little self-indulgent. But when Ondaatje is inhabiting Bolden's mind, he is very convincing, building up a detailed life and mental state from a rush of sensory impressions:

He collected and was filled by every noise as if luscious poison entering the ear like a lady's tongue thickening it and blocking it until he couldn't be entered anymore. A fat full king. The hawk its locked claws full of salmon going under greedy with it for the final time. Nicotine form the small smokes he found burning into his nails, the socks thick with dry sweat, the nose blowing out the day's dirt into a newspaper. Asking for a glass of water and pouring in the free ketchup to make soup. Sank through the pavement into the music of the town of Shell Beach.

Bolden's life is built up above all by the people around him: his wife, his lover, the customers in his barber's shop, bandmembers, an old friend who has become a policeman. An especially powerful subplot revolves around the photographer EJ Bellocq, whose revealing and touching portraits of Storyville prostitutes were found after his death.

Not the least prominent supporting character is Ondaatje himself, who is constantly interrogating his own thoughts as he writes and researches the book.

The thin sheaf of information. Why did my senses stop at you? There was the sentence, ‘Buddy Bolden who became a legend when he went berserk in a parade…’ What was there in that, before I knew your nation your colour your age, that made me push my arm forward and spill it through the front of your mirror and clutch myself?

One wants to write about this novel as though it were music – in terms of its solos, its tone, its timbre. Experimental and poetic, it's a mostly-successful attempt to get inside one exhausted, creative life within an exhausted, creative city. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Mar 8, 2019 |
Wow. ( )
  reganrule | Feb 22, 2016 |
I found this book a bit of a struggle. Set in Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans at the start of the twentieth century, it promised a lot but failed to deliver.

The novella tells the story of Buddy Bolden, accomplished cornet player by night, though by day he supported himself working in a barbershop. Recognised as a gifted musician, Bolden has plenty of demons to deal with and is subsiding into alcoholism alongside a gambling addiction. Hitherto devoted to Nora, his wife, he suddenly also finds himself madly in love with Robin, wife of his fellow musician Jaileen Brewitt. The emotional intensity of his situation grows too much for Bolden and he disappears, leaving his friends and family to try to pick up the pieces and discover where he has gone.

I have enjoyed some of Ondaatje's other books, and particularly 'The Cat's Table' though I also remember finding 'The English Patient (both the book and the film) unnecessary drawn out, even to the extent of thinking "Please just die!". Reading this book was not, however, an enjoyable experience. The story was disjointed and the characters extremely remote: I don't need to feel great affection for characters in order to enjoy a book, but I do normally need to feel some interest in their fates. I couldn't summon the strength of spirit to feel anythi9ng at all for any of the figures in this book, and was merely conscious of a ggreat sense of relief when I finally finished it. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jan 8, 2016 |
In June 1907, Charles "Buddy" Bolden is 'escorted' by Civil Sheriffs McMurray and Jones en route from New Orleans to an insane asylum in Jackson, Louisiana. He has suffered a complete breakdown while playing with Henry Allen's Brass Band ('Red' Allen's father), marching in the Crescent City. He had broken blood vessels in his neck, and they had come through a small town called Slaughter on their way. These are some of the few hard facts known of the life of one of jazz's earliest pioneers, a life that has become the stuff of ethereal myth, legend for some. Bolden's sad story has captured the imagination of Michael Ondaatje. He tells a version of the story in a way that leaves a fuzzy glimpse of a time, a place, and a flawed musician's mental instability that leads to self-destruction. Not the last time that a force of creative talent might succumb like this.

I'm not so sure that this is "the best jazz novel ever written" (as one blurber has it), but it is certainly a moving suggestion of a New Orleans at the dawn of the 20th century. Bolden was jazz's first 'cornet king'. Apparently at the forefront of improvisation, sadly no recordings of his music exist (if any were ever made), and only the one known photograph survives - used as the book's cover (Bolden is back row with his band, 2nd from the left). The first 'celebrities' of that music cite him as the great unknown influence who shaped the earliest departures that melded gospel with ragtime and the blues.

Ondaatje writes poetically. This was his debut novel and the writing is memorable in passages. The structure here is a jazz performance. Sometimes rhythmic, but sometimes jarring, or perhaps even discordant. He shows us Bolden's view, but also those of his wife, and his friends: Webb - a detective who is trying to find what happened to him, and his tragic associate Bellocq who photographs Storyville prostitutes. We move in time back and forth, and sometimes can't be sure - until the refrain returns.

There is a narrator in the shadows, watching over proceedings. There are love triangles: Bolden, his wife Nora and her former pimp Pickett; then another while in a self-imposed exile of two years at out of town Shell Beach. It can be confusing. But an impression undoubtedly emerges. Buddy is unpredictable and volatile - tender and subdued, intense and impassioned - alcoholic and then sometimes violent.

The book pieces together episodic vignettes. From those who knew him, and those that link together the scant facts concerning his life.

"'Then I hear Bolden's cornet, very quiet, and I move across the street, closer. There he is, relaxed back in a chair blowing that silver softly, just above a whisper and I see he's got the hat over the bell of the horn...Thought I knew his blues before, and the hymns at funerals, but what he is playing now is real strange and I listen careful for he's playing something that sounds like both. I cannot make out the tune and then I catch on. He's mixing them up. He's playing the blues and the hymn sadder than the blues and then the blues sadder than the hymn. That is the first time I ever heard hymns and blues cooked up together...

...The picture kept changing with the music. It sounded like a battle between the Good Lord and the Devil. Something tells me to listen and see who wins. If Bolden stops on the hymn, the Good Lord wins. If he stops on the blues, the Devil wins.'"

Although the brief chapters can be beautifully rendered, it is the piecemeal approach of the narrative that let the book down a little for me, and will doubtless dishearten some. Near the end is an afterword of sorts, set in the modern day as the author searches for traces. It weaves itself in with the final points of view:

"The street is fifteen yards wide. I walk around watched by three men farther up the street under a Coca Cola sign. They have not heard of him here. Though one has for a man came a year ago with a tape recorder and offered him money for information, saying Bolden was a 'famous musician'. The sun has bleached everything. The Coke signs almost pink. The paint that remains the colour of old grass. 2 pm daylight. There is the complete absence of him - even his skeleton has softened, disintegrated, and been lost in the water under the earth of Holtz Cemetery. When he went mad he was the same age as I am now." ( )
4 vote Polaris- | Aug 10, 2014 |
Had wanted to read it in one sitting, but never found the time. Took me a while, but in the end I enjoyed it. Wish I had the time to reread it. ( )
  KymmAC | Jul 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
For Quintin and Griffin. For Stephen, Skyler, Tory and North. And in memory of John Thompson.
First words
His geography.
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679767851, Paperback)

Bringing to life the fabulous, colorful panorama of New Orleans in the first flush of the jazz era, this book tells the story of Buddy Bolden, the first of the great trumpet players--some say the originator of jazz--who was, in any case, the genius, the guiding spirit, and the king of that time and place.

In this fictionalized meditation, Bolden, an unrecorded father of Jazz, remains throughout a tantalizingly ungraspable phantom, the central mysteries of his life, his art, and his madness remaining felt but never quite pinned down. Ondaatje's prose is at times startlingly lyrical, and as he chases Bolden through documents and scenes, the novel partakes of the very best sort of modern detective novel--one where the enigma is never resolved, but allowed to manifest in its fullness. Though more 'experimental' in form than either The English Patient or In the Skin of a Lion, it is a fitting addition to the renowned Ondaatje oeuvre.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:42 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Buddy Bolden, a New Orleans barber, cornet player, and full-time editor of a gossip sheet, disappears for two years, and when he returns, he goes berserk and spends his final years in the East Louisiana state hospital.

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.77)
1 2
2 14
2.5 5
3 55
3.5 15
4 71
4.5 6
5 50

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 135,497,237 books! | Top bar: Always visible