Review by Ben Hunter
Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight taps into the same magic you might have experienced while reading Ondaatje’s Booker-winning The English Patient but within a wholly separate landscape. Both books work to pull you deeper and deeper into a world of displacement, longing and wonder.
Warlight begins after VE Day in 1945 in a quiet London neighbourhood where 14-year-old Nathaniel and his 15-year-old sister Rachel have been, without a great deal of fuss, abandoned by their parents and left in the care of a strange man known only as The Moth. This man is a complete enigma, but then again so were Nathaniel’s mother and father. Soon Nathaniel is drawn out of his adolescence and into a criminal world that thrives in the darkness and rubble of post-Blitz England.
It’s a book that unfolds in layers of eloquently rendered uncertainty. Characters turn up unannounced, one after the next, ensuring any semblance of an ordinary youth slips away from Nathaniel. Everyone in this story is important, each contains multitudes, yet every one of them is mysterious.
We rejoin Nathaniel years later as he attempts to reconnect with those who’ve strayed away and put together the pieces of his youth. Walking through her empty house in Suffolk, he finds the mother that he longed for had a far darker and more complex life than was ever imagined. It completes an enthralling and sophisticated drama that will satisfy lovers of intrigue.
Warlight will delight both fans of the hugely successful The English Patient and newcomers to the rich and moving writing of Michael Ondaatje.
A mesmerising new novel from the internationally acclaimed, bestselling author of The English Patient.
In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth.
They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel.
About the Author
Michael Ondaatje is the author of several novels, as well as a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. Among his many Canadian and international recognitions, his novel The English Patient won the Booker Prize, and was adapted into a multi-award winning Oscar movie; and Anil’s Ghost won the Giller Prize, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje lives in Toronto.
"Our book of the year - and maybe of Ondaatje's career." * Daily Telegraph **Books of the Year** *
"Michael Ondaatje's Warlight is a rare and beautiful thing - a deeply retrospective novel about war secrets that feels neither overstated nor overly ethereal. In sumptuous prose, Ondaatje limns the psyche of a man still trying to make sense of his complicated relationships and the mysteries surrounding his absent parents. One of the most absorbing books I've read all year." -- Esi Edugyan * Times Literary Supplement **Books of the Year 2018** *
"Warlight sucked me in deeper than any novel I can remember... fiction as rich, as beautiful, as melancholy as life itself." -- Alex Preston * Observer *
"From the very first sentence you're desperate to find out what happens next... All is slowly, tantalisingly revealed, in flashbacks, fragments, digressions and stories within stories, narrated in majestic Ondaatjean style." -- Ian Sansom * New Statesman *
"In Warlight we have a writer who knows exactly what he's doing - and has constructed something of real emotional and psychological heft, delicate melancholy and yet, frequently, page-turning plottiness. I haven't read a better novel this year." -- Sam Leith * Daily Telegraph *