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Warlight (2018)

by Michael Ondaatje

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,746958,124 (3.73)178
From the internationally acclaimed, bestselling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement. In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself--shadowed and luminous at once--we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings' mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn't know and understand in that time, and it is this journey--through facts, recollection, and imagination--that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.… (more)
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» See also 178 mentions

English (88)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  Piratical (1)  Latvian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (95)
Showing 1-5 of 88 (next | show all)
From reviews I know people either love or hate this book. I'm in the "loved it" camp.

I've read other Ondaatje books, and in my opinion he emphasizes atmosphere and character over action and dialogue. Knowing that going in, this book exceeded my expectations.

The story follows the life of Nathaniel, starting when he's 14 years old in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Both his parents suddenly depart - leaving him and his sister Rachel in the care of a nefarious seeming stranger they dub "The Moth". Other shady characters also make appearances in Nathaniel and Rachel's lives - "The Darter" and a variety of women.

Eventually we come to understand where the parents went and the real roles The Moth and The Darter play in the overall drama.

As I mentioned above, this book evokes a post-war England feeling. A bit surreal and only fully understood by the characters with hindsight many years in the future. ( )
  sriddell | Aug 6, 2022 |
Quirky and well-written, but it always seemed to leave me wanting more, ( )
  VashonJim | Jul 22, 2022 |
I'm not sure how to describe the book. It is a coming of age story and a adult child's discovery of the past that he was unaware of at the time. The story hits the most exciting point in the middle. It is a slow work up and then a slow march back down. It is beautifully written but it just wasn't for me. ( )
  christyco125 | Jul 4, 2022 |
I spent most of the first half of the book hoping they'd switch narrators and just tell the mother's story, and then when we sort of got a glimpse into her wartime adventures I was SO BORED. The reveal at the end was...not nearly as interesting/dramatic/sad as I was expecting, as I got closer and closer to the end. I usually love books about WWII! This was too boring. ( )
  cefreedman | Jul 1, 2022 |
Beautifully descriptive stories of eccentrics, rebels, and nonconformists drifting in and out of somber, moody scenery.
I loved this book. It was refreshingly unique, aesthetically melancholic, with a number of fiercely independent and intelligent women characters. ( )
  ninam0 | Jun 22, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 88 (next | show all)
Ondaatje’s shrewd character study plays out in a smart, sophisticated drama, one worth the long wait for fans of wartime intrigue.
added by Shortride | editKirkus Reivews (Mar 1, 2018)
 
By now we know what we are going to get from an Ondaatje novel: A moody, murky, lightly pretentious and mostly nonlinear investigation of lives and stories that harbor tantalizing gaps.

There will be disquisitions on arcane topics including, frequently, mapmaking. Wartime and/or criminality will feature in the foreground or background. The nature of storytelling will be weighed and found fascinating. The spine of the plot, unlike the spine of a steamed fish, will be nearly impossible to remove whole.....Ondaatje’s new novel, “Warlight,” is his best since “The English Patient.” That sounds like a publicist’s dream quote, but perhaps it isn’t exactly. I was among that sodality of readers who didn’t cotton to “The English Patient,” finding it merely moody, murky and lightly pretentious, a tone poem in search of a whetstone....There’s an unpleasant sense that Ondaatje is regaling us rather than simply putting across a story. In his overweening interest in secrets and tall tales, in his relish for how stories are told, he’s taken the Salman Rushdie exit off the Paul Auster turnpike....Yet his burnished, lukewarm sentences don’t snap to life like the people he enjoys. Reading him on these scruffy men and women is like listening to someone try to play “Long Tall Sally” on solo cello. It’s not awful, but it’s weird.
 
We are in familiar Ondaatje territory here – sensuous prose, curious characters, missing threads, unstable footings. But which of these fragments has real significance? “Do we eventually become what we are originally meant to be?” ponders the narrator – and the reader – as each searches for meaning....This mesmerizing novel begins in 1945, when Nathaniel’s parents disappear, leaving Nathaniel, then 14, and his 16-year old sister in a grimy, postwar South London, “in the care of two men who may have been criminals.” Ostensibly, both parents are going to Singapore for a year, for their father’s new job. Meanwhile, the two men – Walter (tagged “the Moth” by the children for his “shy movements”) and “the Pimlico Darter” (an ex-welterweight boxer) – fill the house with bizarre visitors....Every sentence that Ondaatje writes defies gravity with its elegance, yet is weighty with significance. Water rushes out of taps “like time itself.” There are baffling loose ends and moments of tension. And yet, underneath the uncertainty there is a sturdy cohesion that makes this one of Ondaatje’s most successful and satisfying novels.
 
A boy alone in postwar London is drawn into shadowy worlds in this suspenseful yet frustrating story from the English Patient author....Michael Ondaatje likes writing about uncertainties, mysteries and doubts, not quite with the Keatsian ambition of resisting “any irritable reaching after fact and reason”, but because he relishes the idea of thoughts being fluid and characters essentially unknowable....scenes are habitually softened by half-lights, and all action and most reflection are slowed by rich (some would say overwritten) prose. Hence, too, the procedures of his other novels, in which similarly striking narrative potential is mostly kept in check, or actually stifled...In Ondaatje’s new novel, his eighth, his appetite for imprecision is stronger than ever..Rather than closing the book convinced that psychological insights have been generated by Jamesian withholdings, we might equally well feel that characters have been flattened by our simply not knowing enough about them, and that our interest in their doings is diminished by the same means.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Ondaatjeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Devine Carson, CarolCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
“Most of the great battles are fought in the creases of topographical maps.”
Dedication
For Ellen Seligman, Sonny Mehta, and Liz Calder
over the years
First words
In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.
Quotations
We order our lives with barely held stories. As if we have been lost in a confusing landscape, gathering what was invisible and unspoken—Rachel, the Wren, and I, a Stitch—sewing it all together in order to survive, incomplete, ignored like the sea pea on those mined beaches during the war.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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From the internationally acclaimed, bestselling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement. In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself--shadowed and luminous at once--we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings' mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn't know and understand in that time, and it is this journey--through facts, recollection, and imagination--that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.

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