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Warlight (Vintage International) Paperback – April 2, 2019
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"The Last of the Moon Girls" by Barbara Davis
A novel of secrets, memory, family, and forgiveness by the author of When Never Comes. | Learn more
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“[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.” —The New York Review of Books
“Mr. Ondaatje has stepped into John le Carré’s world of spies and criminals. . . . His novel views history as a child would, in ignorance but also in innocence and wonder.” —The Wall Street Journal
“[An] intricate and absorbing novel. . . . Brings alive a time and a place.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A rare and beautiful thing—a deeply retrospective novel about war secrets that feels neither overstated nor overly ethereal. . . . One of the most absorbing books I’ve read all year.” — Esi Edugyan, The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully paced, subtle storytelling. . . . Tells the hidden, barely spoken, tale of war, especially as it impacts on children. Ondaatje skilfully moves back and forth through time, finally offering an extraordinary narrative twist that feels as earned as it is unexpected.” —2018 Man Booker Prize Jury citation
“A meditation on the lingering effects of war on family.” —Barack Obama (personal pick for recommended summer reading)
“Our book of the year—and maybe of Ondaatje’s career. . . . A terrifically tense spy thriller and a delicate coming-of-age tale.” —The Telegraph (London)
“A superb wartime mystery. . . . Ondaatje’s is an aesthetic of the fragment. His novels are constructed, with intricate beauty, from images and scenes that don’t so much flow together as cling together in vibrating, tensile fashion.” —The Boston Globe
“A masterpiece of shifting memory.” —Los Angeles Times
“An intricate ballet of longing and deception. . . . If writers are cartographers of the heart, Michael Ondaatje's oeuvre could fill an atlas.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“An entrancing and masterfully crafted story.” —The New Republic
“With the force of something familiar, intimate, truthful . . . Warlight sucked me in deeper than any novel that I can remember; when I looked up from it, I was surprised to find the 21st century still going on about me. . . . A work of fiction as rich, beautiful, as melancholy as life itself, written in the visionary language of memory.” —Alex Preston, The Guardian
“Lyrical. . . . Ondaatje illuminates the rubble-strewn landscape [of post-war London] from angled sidelights. . . . His prose matches a mood of mystery and suspicion that tantalizes.” —The Economist
“Fascinating. . . . Lyrical. . . . A mournful, impressionistic memory of all the things that never were.” —Entertainment Weekly
“The author’s prose is as bright and startling as we’ve seen it since The English Patient.” —Condé Nast Traveler
“A haunting mystery. . . . By turns lyrical and wrenching. . . . A rich, satisfying read.” —People
“A tender coming-of-age story . . . warmly delivered. . . . [Ondaatje’s] elegant prose is a pleasure.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Eloquently told and heartbreakingly believable. . . . No other writer builds a world with the delicacy and precision of Michael Ondaatje. You enter it, fall under its spell and never want to leave.” —The Seattle Times
“Exquisite. . . . Elegant, melancholy. . . . Ondaatje keeps the reader in thrall to the story through the sheer excellence of his writing.” —The Dallas Morning News
“[A] quiet, lushly shaded and haunting novel. . . . Immensely rich and rewarding.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Gorgeously written. . . . A fog of wonder, fear, tenderness and melancholy.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Warlight is mesmerising, and powerfully sad. . . . This novel dives into the darkness, and finds small miracles among the shattered glass, the ruins.” —Financial Times
“A novel of shadowy brilliance.” —The Times (London)
“Wonderful. . . . This elegiac novel combines the stealth of an espionage thriller with the irresolute shifts of a memory play, purposefully full of fragments, loss and unfinished stories.” —The Daily Mail
“Surprising, delightful, heartbreaking and written as only Ondaatje could write it.” — Kamila Shamsie, The Guardian
“Majestic. . . . Show-stoppingly magnificent. . . . Golden? Adamantine.” —The New Statesman
“Mesmerizing. . . . One of Ondaatje’s most successful and satisfying novels.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“Irresistible. . . . An exceptionally entertaining literary journey.” —The Irish Times
“Compulsively and grippingly readable. . . . Michael Ondaatje is a marvellous writer, and Warlight is a novel which will continue to play in the reader’s imagination.” —The Scotsman
About the Author
- Item Weight : 8 ounces
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525562966
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525562962
- Dimensions : 5.15 x 0.61 x 7.99 inches
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (April 2, 2019)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #53,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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.
The first part of the book, with Nathaniel's exploits and relationships with the various characters who enter his life is done beautifully. You get drawn into the plot and the characters and then ...
From Part 2 onward it's all downhill.
The adult Nathaniel who is searching for his mother is too distant to be of any interest and his mother is not just distant but indifferent to everyone and everything around her. As a result her character is of no interest. The character of Marsh Felon is even more remote. By the time I came to the end I was skipping pages and had no care what happened to any of the characters.
What a waste of such a great start. And since Part 1 only lasts for 44% of the book not worth buying.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
In the 1940s narrative, Nathaniel, his sister Rachel and their parents have survived the war. Surviving the peace will not be so easy. First Nathaniel’s father leaves to work in Asia, and then his mother disappears. He and Rachel are brought up in the family home by a revolving cast of strange men who seem to drift around the edges of the criminal underworld. There are shady dealings with greyhounds and furtive nocturnal sailings up and down the Thames in a mussel barge. Nathaniel is at the transition from boy to man; he works in kitchens, sows wild oats and charms the various oddballs who hang around with his guardians. Until, one evening, this strange world collapses in on itself.
Moving to the 1959 section, Nathaniel is older and works for one of the government security agencies. This gives him an opportunity to investigate some of the mysterious events of the 1940s. In particular, we discover what happened to Nathaniel’s mother and her relationship with the curiously named Marsh Felon, the son of a thatcher who had worked on her roof many years previously.
For the first half, the reader is happy to go along with it all to see where it leads. Then, early in the second half, something goes awry. The point of view moves away from Nathaniel and somehow everything seems less immediate, less convincing. Nathaniel’s mother behaves inexplicably. Even when the explanation is attempted, it is inexplicable. As each character is explained in turn, the fundamental driving direction weakens more and more. It comes as no great surprise to the reader to discover that they everyone is a spook, but it is never clear how or why any of them became involved in espionage in the first place – or what they did while working as spies.
The evocation of an atmosphere is well done if somewhat clichéd. I mean, was the whole of the 1940s foggy? Were the streets really full of spivs that would embarrass Private Walker from Dad’s Army? Did spies really behave quite so – er – mysteriously?
The good outweighs the bad in Warlight. The first half and more is really compelling. The frustration is that the switch from intriguing to boring is quite sudden and quite irreversible. By the very end, with a greyhound nuzzling Nathaniel’s hand, there is an overwhelming sense that section after section has been added to get the wordcount up, but without any sense of whether it was actually adding to the story – which in a story-led novel is a problem.
Three and a half stars rounded down.
What struck me from reading the reviews is that each reader seems to have placed differing significance on the various themes. Some have mentioned that it is the memoirs of a man of his youth, some that found the plot compelling, some about a family broken by war.
My own personal take away from the novel was the important roles that ordinary people, even petty criminals, played during the war and the significance of the war effort on the home front by the general population.
I have docked off a star as I didn't actually find the plot all that engaging and whilst the characters are interesting, I found it difficult to feel invested in any of them. However, it is a well written and powerful novel and it'll be interesting to see if it is a key contender for the Man Booker this year.
There isn't a plot as such but there wasn't really a plot with The English Patient but it is intensely beautiful and held my attention throughout.
Unlike Kate Atkinson's Transcription, this novel delivers and involves.