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Solemn Contract Paperback – October 9, 2014
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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I like historicals, and part of the reason I chose this one is because I always wanted to know more about the life of early settlers, even if in a fictional setting. I can hardly vouch for the authenticity of the details, but the general atmosphere of the story seemed spot on-based on whatever cursory knowledge I have of this period in history.
The characters absolutely charmed me -- Jem Braddley who would do anything for his family, including becoming an indentured servant, even if his profession was so far from farming, and Will Middleton, who would do anything to help the innocent to obtain justice.
The story is quiet and not over-the-top at all, even when painful events are happening, and there is not a lot of melodrama. I felt that Jem dealt with his misfortune with quiet dignity, and his friendship with Will, which eventually grew into more than that, felt believable and realistic. The story was also very tame -- the sex scenes are very few and not explicit, and it felt right. I think I can compare this story with a river slowly and gracefully moving towards it end. There is very little glamour in this novel; life was hard for these people and the reader can see it, but at the same time I think it is very true that human nature can adapt to anything, and it was nice to see that they could enjoy life too sometimes.
Again, please be aware that I cannot attest or disprove the realism of the settings, besides a very general picture which overall seemed correct, but I wonder how historically true Jem and Will's acceptance of their feelings towards each other was. I would not call their mindset completely modern, but I felt that it was a bit too easy. There was a big deal being made about the town people accepting them and the solution which the author found was creative enough (and no, thank goodness nobody else but one person figured it out), but at the same time Jem and Will's modest -- but not overwhelming -- angst seemed mainly about letting each other know and not about the fact that they prefer men. While some of it was there, I guess I would have expected more worrying over the fact that they are attracted to men would have been more historically correct.
I also did not care for a POV switch every time when the author needed to tell us something important about another character's thought. The story is mostly written from Will and Jem's third person POVs, however besides their narration, we also get inside the heads of at least four other characters. It was annoying at times because their POV lasted for couple paragraphs and that was it. For that reason I may have also missed couple more POV switches since they did not last long and I may have blinked before they ended. While it did disrupt the flow for me a bit, surprisingly it did not ruin it completely and did not put me in the state of dizziness, which is what usually happens to me when POV switches that often.
The last niggle I had was when the author suddenly started calling Will and Jem by their last names. I think I understand the reasoning -- to diversify how they are referred to in the text -- but to me all that it achieved was a weird alienation from the characters. It is especially odd when we are in their heads and it feels like they refer to themselves by their last names.
Recommended despite my niggles.