- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 8, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780525521198
- ISBN-13: 978-0525521198
- ASIN: 0525521194
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 330 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,386 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Warlight: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 8, 2018
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An Amazon Best Book of May 2018: First sentences matter, and Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight begins with a distinctly dramatic one. “In 1945, our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals” says 14-year-old Nathaniel, who with his older sister Rachel finds himself living in bombed-out London with two shady characters known as “The Moth” and “The Pimlico Darter.” Warlight starts with elements of a classic children’s adventure story, but its shadows run increasingly deep as Nathaniel, growing older, uncovers the network of deception that masks his mother’s spy-work. When the trail of factual discoveries grows cold, he imagines a past he can never truly know, composing, in effect, a dreamlike memoir of his “lost inheritance.” In Warlight, Ondaatje, now 74 years old, has written a wonderfully varied, blazingly literary, and gut-twistingly emotional story that will leave readers grateful for whatever solidity their own families can claim, though newly aware of the fundamental mystery of other lives. --Sarah Harrison Smith, Amazon Book Review
“Warlight is a quiet new masterpiece from Michael Ondaatje…An elegiac thriller [with] the immediate allure of a dark fairy tale. In Warlight, all is illuminated, at first dimly then starkly, but always brilliantly.” —Anna Mundow, The Washington Post
“If writers are cartographers of the heart, Michael Ondaatje’s oeuvre could fill an atlas. . . [he] evokes a kaleidoscope of ideas and moods with exquisite lyricism…Warlight is an intricate ballet of longing and deception, and a singular ode to the mother-child bond.” —Hamilton Cain, O Magazine
“[Ondaatje] casts a magical spell, as he takes you into his half-lit world of war and love, death and loss, and the dark waterways of the past.” —Hermione Lee, New York Review of Books
“Mr. Ondaatje has stepped into John de la Carré’s world of spies and criminals…his novel views history as a child would, in ignorance but also innocence and wonder.” —Sam Sacks, WSJ
“[An] intricate and absorbing novel. . . . This is a book rich with detail. The reader is bound to be conscious of a hidden ballast of research, the seven-eighths of the iceberg without which the thing would founder, but so deft is the writing that you forget this, simply appreciating the meticulous background that brings alive a time and a place. —Penelope Lively, The New York Times Book Review
“A tender coming of age story so warmly delivered you almost forget how much of its plot involves smuggling, spycraft, and assassins…the novel becomes at once a mystery tale and an exploration into how much of our lives are out of our control, especially in wartime.” —Mark Athitakis, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Michael Ondaatje’s novel Warlight is a masterpiece of shifting memory… a book made lush through layers of experience instead of description.” —Bethanne Patrick, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“[A] haunting, brilliant novel from Ondaatje…Mesmerizing from the first sentence, rife with poignant insights and satisfying subplots, this novel about secrets and loss may be Ondaatje’s best work yet.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A lyrical mystery that plays out in the shadow of World War II…Ondaatje’s shrewd character study plays out in a smart, sophisticated drama, one worth the long wait for fans of wartime intrigue.” —Kirkus Review (starred review)
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Immediately after the war, most of London still in rubble from The Blitz, siblings, Rachel and Nathaniel find themselves largely on their own after their parents decamp to Singapore leaving them under the dubious guardianship of a "friend" whom they call The Moth. Gradually it is revealed through our first-person narrator, Nathaniel, that all is not what it seems. Who is The Moth? Criminal? Spy? Both? What is really going on with their parents?
Ondaatje makes the English language sing as he tells the story of this brother and sister as they grow up quickly in this well paced and plotted novel. Focusing on Nathaniel, we learn that their home quickly fills up with other “strange” characters, and one of them, a former boxer, known only as The Darter, enlists Nathaniel into helping him smuggle Greyhounds for the burgeoning and entirely unregulated Greyhound Racing business. Nathaniel and The Darter become close until a violent confrontation changes everything.
The second part of the novel moves us to Suffolk in the late 1950s as adult Nathaniel attempts to piece together the mystery of his parents, and their cohorts’ war work. “The lost sequence in a life, they say, is the thing we always search out.” Says Nathaniel. Through a mixture of investigation and imagination, Nathaniel fleshes out his own origin story, for in essence, this is a mother-son story merely set around WWII where the muted light at night is called “warlight”.
'Warlight' refers both to the physically available light in England when the black out was in place an also the dim way we see the past as we use it to interpret the present. Lovely.
Our narrator is a teenage boy, Nathaniel Williams, who is left, with his slightly older sister Rachel “in the care of two men who may have been criminals.” Their mother, Rose, disappears from their lives in 1945, purportedly to engage in some sort of undercover or espionage actions. As a result, they spend their teenage years surrounded by Dickensian characters: a man they refer to as The Moth, a greyhound racer and bon vivant called the Darter, and others who flitter in and out of their lives. It is only in part two, a decade or more later, that a little bit of light is shed.
The book, as one might expect from Mr. Ondaatje, is elegantly and lyrically crafted. It’s a pure pleasure to read prose this assured. An ambiance is set that keeps the reader on edge and off balance. Michael Ondaatje takes the all-too-common coming-of-age trope and turns it on its ear, as if he’s a magician pulling mesmerizing scenes out of his hat.
But. Something changed for me in the second half of this novel. I am typically a big fan of novels that are non-linear and that switch from one point of view to another. But in this case, I found the switch to be distancing. I believe the author’s theme can be encapsulated in this line: “We never know more than the surface of any relationship after a certain stage, just as those layers of chalk, built from the efforts of infinitesimal creatures, work in almost limitless time.” If my interpretation is correct, then Michael Ondaatje delivers on what he sets out to do.
Yet still, I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied, as I do sometimes when I meet a self-professed “private person” who keeps me at arm’s length. Like Nathaniel, I kept trying to make my way to a core place called “home” – and maybe that’s precisely the point.
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An absolute must read. Full of amazing twists of plots and beautifully written.Read more