A novel is a mirror walking down a road
Many books open with an author's assurance of order. One slipped into their waters with a silent paddle
But novels commenced with hesitation or chaos. Readers were never fully in balance. A door a lock a weir opened and they rushed through, one hand holding a gunnel, the other a hat. When she begins a book, she enters through stilted doorways into large courtyards.
This quotation, found in Chapter III, is narrated in part by Hana. Reading is a motif which is found throughout The English Patient: reading not only helps the characters escape from their wartime situation, but also helps them bring order to their chaotic lives and draws the characters closer together. Hana and Almásy, who are initially uncomfortable with each other, grow closer as she reads to him in bed.
In this passage we see the narrator's own philosophy of the novel. Just as George Eliot suggested that the novel was a "mirror held up to society," so Ondaatje seems to suggest that the novel is a "mirror walking down a road." He clearly wants to reflect the reality of life and war, but the process of doing so is not a smooth one. It involves starts, stops, bumps, memories, and glimpses of the past in an attempt to successfully convey a truth. Unlike a history book, there is no assurance of chronology or order. A novel commences "with hesitation or chaos." Just as Hana enters into her "stilted doorways into large courtyards," so do we, as readers of this novel, enter into the story of the English patient.