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Warlight (2018)

by Michael Ondaatje

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,517848,814 (3.76)166
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 166 mentions

English (77)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  Piratical (1)  Latvian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (84)
Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
This book is beautifully written. The story starts with a family of four. First, dad goes away on a trip and then the mom leaves the two children in the care of a man the kids call "The Moth". She is gone for quite a long time, the children don't know where and then one day she returns without explanation.
The story is told much like the author's other book "The Cat's Table" as a adult looking back on the experience many years after the fact. The main character then goes to try and investigate and find out where his mother was and what she was doing during the time she was gone.
( )
  Jeff_Simms | Jun 9, 2021 |
"Warlight" has definitely been my best read so far this year. But, as it happens, it's often much more difficult to write a review of a wonderful book than a review of a book one finds terrible and having lots of flaws. I do struggle with finding the right words to describe my reading experience and my feelings as a reader.
The premise is explained rather quickly: Nathaniel and Rachel are two teenagers in London during the aftermath of World War II. They are abandoned by their parents who seemingly are traveling to Asia for work. The young siblings are left with a man they call The Moth and henceforth grow up with a group of strange and interesting people who leave their mark on them.
The story is told in retrospective by Nathaniel and there are many time warps and many different layers to the story.
It is essentially a story about memories and about how your past shapes you. How do you perceive those around you and how does that change over time? The narration is almost dreamlike in parts, the pace is often slow, the reader feels the story with all the senses. It took me some time to get into it, but once I had settled down into the style, I was totally drawn in and wished it to be much longer.
This novel has made me reflect a lot and I'm sure it will stay with me for years to come. ( )
  MissBrangwen | May 2, 2021 |
I tried so hard to get into this book. It had everything I normally love in a thriller: mystery, espionage but not enough to hold my attention.

I found myself literally fighting sleep trying to make it through chapters. What kind of parents leave their children with strangers? I personally would volunteer if they are as boring as this book was.

I gave up 5 chapters in and will not attempt to finish it.

*i was provided an advanced readers copy* ( )
  ReviewsByKay | Mar 1, 2021 |
I want to say that I loved this book because I usually love Ondaatje's books but I found that it wandered too much for me and some of the characters were unbelievable for me. ( )
  FurbyKirby | Jan 5, 2021 |
I know this isn't a straightforward plot driven spy story but given that it is like a piecing together of a jigsaw of his past by Nathaniel I still found the lack of focus and resolution not to my taste.

Le Carre is a better writer of spy novels in my opinion because he describes the effects of fighting the secret war of espionage through what his characters do and say as part of a plot as opposed to philosophical musings superimposed over the plot. I get the message about the past affecting the present but Le Carre transmits that kind of message implicitly not explicitly.

And there are some loose ends such as who and what exactly was the father of Nathaniel and Rachel who so quickly disappears (killed in spy action?) The out of hours visit to his father's office near Curzon Street (needed many keys) is a puzzle. Curzon Street is the old location of MI5 HQ but MI5 dealt with internal security whereas Rose Williams, Marsh Felon et al (inc the father?) are in either MI6 or SOE. And there's no way you could gain access to MI5 HQ with a few keys. There would be 24/7 manned security.

I realize the details of the short account of Rose's murder is invented by Nathaniel but why include the bit about breaking the window with the right elbow? It's a pure guess. Even if we assume this is the same woman who interrogated Marsh Felon there's no indication in that passage as to whether she is left or right handed.

There is some beautiful writing here about how unusual events of war and immediate post war affect people but for me the plot is too loose and inexact to be satisfying.

In the first half I had far more sympathy with the dubious characters The Moth, The Darter and friends than the main characters Nathaniel and Rachel who were rather snooty by comparison. ( )
  Joe_Gargery | Oct 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 77 (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.”
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For Ellen Seligman, Sonny Mehta, and Liz Calder
over the years
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In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.
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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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