Warlight

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Sep 2018

Member Reviews

Love a good period piece and the author is very good at it. The story line seemed slow and I can't say it really engaged me but the lovely prose kept me going.
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To be perfectly honest, I had a lot of trouble reading this book. I don't know what it was but I can't even I remember much of it. The writing style was strongest part, as it usually is for Ondaatje. I just found myself having trouble becoming engaged with the story. The mystery of the mother eventually becoming revealed was a big draw, but it took us a long time to get there. Maybe some day I can give this another shot. It took me over a month to finish this unfortunately and for such a short book, it's surprising.
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I've wanted to read Michael Ondaatje for a long time. This was the first book I read by him. It's beautifully written. A very different kind of narrative, going back and forth in time, a very interesting type of narrator, which got me a bit confused at times. It took me a very long time to finish this because I could not care enough about the character, unfortunately. I usually like historical fiction, especially WW2 related, but had a hard time with Warlight for some reason. Maybe not the right timing for me? I had to force myself to finish the book. The rating reflect my reading experience.
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It is 1945 and World War II has just ended in London.  Nathaniel, 14 years old, and his older sister, Rachel, are left in the care of a man named the Moth, when their parents leave them to travel to Singapore.  The Moth is quite mysterious as are their parents and the reasons for leaving their children.
The children are bereft initially but as time progresses, their caretaker introduces them to his group of acquaintances, who were all, somehow, caught up in defending their country in mysterious ways during the War.
Yet, the men and women strive collectively to protect and teach their wards in rather unorthodox manners.  When their mother resurfaces, the mystery intensifies.
"Warlight" will especially appeal to readers who enjoy reaching their own conclusions when digesting a plot.
There are no definitive, tidy answers but there is plenty of grist as to what you might imagine it to be.
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Shades of Dickens in this tale of lost parenthood wrapped up with war and espionage. Prose a little too flowery for an audio book, but there will still episodes to enjoy.
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I accidentally typed my review in the note to publisher section, and I can't seem to retrieve it now. It was highly positive, equating this book with his best work, and stressing how it calls for active reader involvement.
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I really enjoyed this book overall and was impressed with the story told. I feel like the writing style helps to bring the characters to life and gives a lot of emotion to the story. I felt very connected to the characters. 
The story takes place in such a dark part of our world's history and so many stories of this time are hard reads. I enjoyed the story and had a difficult time putting it down. I feel like it is one of the better novels I have read this year.
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⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 3.5 rating

The story is slow. Masked. Speculative. Surreal. A world in which so much espionage, censorship, and even building scaling, seems... well, unlikely. Impossible. 
I suppose we forget that only a post-war world could be like that. And that’s exactly what this was.

It’s a story told in reverse. Delicate details carefully laid out, only too slow moving for me. (A bit reminiscent of Steinbeck. Heavy on descriptions with minimal but poignant dialogue.) I will admit that it is eloquently told. Slowly the faceless and shadowy figures become human. Very human. Almost victims of fate and circumstance. It felt like I was watching a silent film in which the main character is trying to uncover the truth about the past.
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I’d never read a book by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, but his 1992 Man Booker Prize winner, The English Patient, is on my “to read” list, so I thought I’d give his newest novel, Warlight, which is on the long list for this year’s Man Booker Prize, a try.

Part one of the novel deals with the childhood in 1945 London of Nathaniel (Stitch) whose parents abandon him and his sister Rachel (Wren) when they are in their teens and place them in the hands of some somewhat unsavory characters (The Moth and his pal The Darter) who involve them in their nefarious everyday activities. Not that fourteen year old Nathaniel minds. Who wouldn’t want to skip school to drive around to various destinations with a car full of greyhounds or, better yet, steer a boat through the waterways of England to various ports to deliver these same goods – unknown quantities with questionable pedigrees – to compete in underground dog racing? He learns a lot about secrecy, especially concealing his sexual trysts with Agnes, who finds them empty houses for sale listed with her real estate brother – homes bereft of furniture where they can do the deed without being disturbed. Fun times, but living on the edge can be dangerous and the siblings start to wonder where their mother really is (they could care less about their dad) when they discover her trunk, which had been carefully packed in their presence, untouched in the attic still full of her things. She definitely is not in the stated destination of Singapore.

Which leads to Part Two, where Nathanial, fifteen years later, is on a quest to discover the truth about his mum, Rose. Rachel is out of the scene and no one else is around from those forgone times of his youth, so he’s going it alone, surreptitiously searching for evidence at the Intelligence Agency where he works. Nathaniel’s narrative provides details from his teen years as clues into the truth, showing up as he attempts to find some sort of explanation, as the faces and names from his past provide the stepping stones necessary to reconstruct his mother’s days during the war to find the answers he desperately needs in order to move forward with his life.

Reading Warlight is like walking through a murky night getting glimpses of where you are headed but still not quite sure you are going in the right direction. Some of the visualizations are fascinating, but the plot meanders making it difficult to follow, causing the reader to make guesses as to what is actually happening, not daring to ever ask why. The concept of Schwer, part of the secret language between siblings, is ever present, representing the struggles during a post war London reconstructing after the Blitz. Even the occasional ray of sunshine Ondaatje allows to peer through his words does not provide enough light to overcome the dreariness left by the war nor its effects on this family. A thoroughly depressing book which fails to be lifted out of its angst by Nathaniel’s discoveries. However, the entire tale has a haunting effect as compared to most literature which is too often read and forgotten, although it is a complicated, difficult read, not for the casual reader. Three and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on my blog, Gotta Read.
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It is as if everything in this book is shrouded in fog, just as in the cover photo.  Aver WWII, two children are left behind with a mysterious character, The Moth, when their parents leave for Singapore.  The Moth and his friends become their caretakers and it is clear that they are involved in some shady, illegal transactions.  At one point their mother reappears without her husband and The Moth and his crew disappear.  Years later as he sifts through maps and other evidence, Nathanial, begins to uncover his mother's history when he begins to work for British Intelligence to review wartime files.

This is a fabulous book that bears more than one reading.
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Warlight refers to that hazy twilight used by emergency vehicles and those that moved in the cloak and dagger world of WWII wartime blackouts.  There is a mystique to the story, told by fourteen year old Nathaniel Williams whose parents have gone away and left he and his sister "... in the care of two men who may have been criminals."  The reader, like Nathaniel, feels the plot is just outside his grasps, but if he continues to read that it will all come together and indeed, it does.

This story gave me a feel for the vast number of people, cogs, spies, network of individuals it must have taken for the Allies to have won the war. One person, under the cover of the night, the warlight, to do one task, to make it feasible for another to complete theirs, to make it possible for a message to be delivered for a plane, a ship, a person, to be in the right place at the right time.  Just an unbelievably intricate web which could be broken with just one misstep by one person being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It leaves you breathless.  #Warlight #NetGalley
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This book is very confusing and disjointed. Just as I thought the story was making sense it takes a complete u turn and loses the reader.
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“In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals... I was fourteen at the time, and Rachel nearly sixteen...”

“The arrangement appeared strange, but life still was haphazard and confusing during that period after the war... [Our guardian was] "The Moth", a name we invented. Ours was a  family with a habit for nicknames, which meant it was also a family of disguises. [I was called "Stitch" and my sister, Rachel known as "Wren"].”

It's 1945. The WWII armistice has been reached but the war still rages behind the scenes. A piece of paper and a handshake doesn't cut it for renegades bent on revenge.  Behind the screen labeled peace, a shadow war continues. Warlight is the coming-of-age story of two abandoned children, living in their family home, under the care of a "guardian" appointed by their mother. The guardian, she insists, is someone they met years earlier.

The narrator is Nathaniel, now an adult. Part 1 covers the time immediately after their parents left in 1945. Part 2 begins in 1959 and chronicles his career in British Intelligence where he is able to surreptitiously scour archives to search for his mother's deepest secrets. His sister, Rachel, appears in both parts, more as a jack-in-the-box, popping up now and again to be a counterbalance to Nathaniel's devil-may-care personality.

As I read along, I felt like I was in a Twilight Light Zone episode. The dialogue filtered just enough to obscure the depth of its meaning. Each encounter or observation creating a jigsaw puzzle piece the reader must gather to form the final picture.

Part 1 begins with Nathaniel and Rachel seeing their father off at the airport headed to Singapore for a year on a new job. Their mother, Rose, plans to join him soon. Sometime after Rose left, the children discover her carefully packed trunk hidden in the basement.  If Rose didn't go to Singapore, where is she and what has been she doing?

The years pass with never a word from either parent. It has been a crazy time with strangers wandering in-and-out of their house at all hours. Who were these people? "The Moth" calls them colleagues, not friends. How does their mother know all these people? Or does she? How do they know this house?

Nathaniel is always scavenging clues about his mother whereabouts from these people but never getting at the truth. Rachel grows more and more angry and elusive over the years, exuding an awareness of their mother's secret but never confiding in Nathaniel or the reader.

Their "orphaned" lives are filled with intrigue and adventure. The two children wander the dark-side of London in the company of "The Moth" and another frequent visitor, "The Pimlico Darter", named for his penchant for illegal greyhound racing. When Rachel drifts away, her place in the midnight runs up London's canals is filled with Nathaniel's girlfriend, "Agnes".

Agnes and Nathaniel complement each other. They seek privacy in each other's company in abandoned building. They believe their escapades are unobserved. Yet. There is always the feeling of being watched. Maybe that was what The Moth meant when he repeatedly told them to be aware... prepare for "schwer", moments when things get difficult...  prepare for the unknown.  "It was a strange warning to be given, to accept that nothing was safe anymore."

The Moth, himself, was unprepared for schwer when it arrived.

"The Moth had parked in an alley alongside the theater when a man got into the front seat beside him, put a hand behind his head and swung it forward, banging it against the steering wheel then against the door [killing him]..someone else slid in next to Rachel and covered her face with a cloth.... [He] put the same cloth over my face..."The schwer, I'd have thought if I had been conscious.

"A hand touched me in the darkness to pull me awake. 'Hello Stitch.'
I recognized my mother's voice. [Heard her ask someone.] How did they get so close to my children?"
Before they knew what happened to them, the children were whisked away from their current lives for their safety. They simply disappeared along with their mother. Rose took her children to her childhood home. It is obvious she cared for her children, but she never warmed to the role of "mother". Rose Williams, known in the dark underworld as "Viola", hung up her spurs, but not her vigilance. She knew that revenge has no time limits. She knew she faced a day of reckoning. And one day, it arrived.

Nathaniel, jumping his story to 1959, sits down in the secretive intelligence archives. He hopes to learn why his mother chose a life of peril and intrigue over her family.  He works each newly discovered puzzle piece into a jigsaw puzzle of Rose's life. The final picture shows there are missing pieces that died with Rose; not enough is revealed to give Nathaniel the closure I think he deserved. Schwer.

If you enjoy a book with code names and buried secrets, this book is for you.
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The English Patient is one of my all-time favorite books, so I read every novel that Ondaatje publishes, and certainly looked forward to Warlight.

While this book was beautifully written - evocative metaphors, luscious description of settings - the plot and characters were somewhat weak. None of the characters was fully developed, including the narrator. Yes, the title of the book indicates that the story is intended to be "unclear", but in realizing that goal, the author never fully engages the reader. I was looking for a little more intrigue; instead the narrative was rather flat. 

Not one of his better works, in my opinion
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Studio boss Harry Cohn had a foolproof measure to tell whether a movie was any good: "I have a foolproof device for judging whether a picture is good or bad. If my fanny squirms, it’s bad. If my fanny doesn’t squirm, it’s good."  My technique is not quite so physical, but I can say for sure, if I find excuses not to pick up the book I'm currently  reading, that is a sure sign it hasn't captured my interest. 
Warlight is just such a book. Focusing on a teenage brother and sister living in London after World War II, we are introduced to neglectful parents, mysterious and equally neglectful parent substitutes  and a whole crew of criminal types whose wartime responsibilities are uncertain. Ondaatje has a fine literary style but to this reader his characters are bloodless and evoke very little interest. I finished the book out of a sense of duty, but frankly I was only mildly interested in the mystery of Nathaniel's mother and her wartime escapades.
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By the author The English Patient, the story begins with parents leaving the country for overseas entrusting teenage siblings to a "roomer" in their home. The reader discovers quickly that there's much more to the story. 

Written almost as a memoir, Nathaniel looks back on his teenage years as he tries to find out the real story behind his mother's disappearance. This is beautifully written, but at times the action is slow reflecting the manner in which all Nathaniel's mother's secrets are revealed. The plot is almost episodic in style drawing the reader into the lives of all the characters that surround Nathaniel. There are moments that shock the reader and moments of calm introspection. A lovely book.
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A beautiful, subtle story of the war's hidden stories and their after effects. This is my first experience reading Ondaatje, but I will definitely be back for more.
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Plunging into the aftermath of World War II Ondaatje has written a novel of such quiet strength that it is hard to believe it is fiction.  The characters feel real and the story draws the reader in while propelling them forward in this powerful narrative. Definitely  a book worth setting aside large blocks of time for immersive reading!!
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There is a distinct darkness that pervades Warlight, both in the tone of the prose as well as the dimly nature of most of the scenes in the book.  This lack of illumination serves as a wonderful metaphor for the story itself, in which Nathaniel and Rachel, teenaged siblings living in London near the end of World War II, are suddenly abandoned by their parents.  Placed in the care of two mysterious men they know only as The Moth and The Darter, the brother and sister grow up over the next ten years largely in the dark about their parents’ fate but with very different impressions of what is actually happening around them.  The novel thereby creates a striking blend of a compelling mystery, a war story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age tale.

For readers familiar with Michael Ondaatje’s distinctive style, it will come as no surprise that this story is not unveiled in a straightforward, linear way.  The first half of the book concentrates on Nathaniel’s post-war life in the care of two men who may well be criminals, while the second part reconstructs his mother Rose’s wartime activities by way of the son’s mostly passive attempts to find the truth.  Throughout the story, however, the author frequently shifts the perspective forward or backward in time and uses foreshadowing to create an effective sense of foreboding.  He also introduces the reader to a dizzying array of different characters, all of whom have a purpose and figure into the ultimate resolution of the novel.

I have long been a big fan of Ondaatje’s work, as much for his poetic, lyrical writing style as for the intricate and engaging stories he tells.  While Warlight did not quite approach the absolute best of what the author has produced in the past—The English Patient remains one of my very favorite novels—I nevertheless found it to be a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking reading experience.  There is a great line that appears toward the end of the book that summarizes so much of what the story is about: “Do we eventually become what we are originally meant to be?”  For both Rose and Nathaniel, this question is resolved, even if their respective answers are not the ones they might have wanted.
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interesting read of post WWII England as seen through the eyes of a young boy.  With him we understand events only by what he sees, only later, as he is older, do some things become clear, while others remain unknown
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