“Warlight” a beautiful book by Michael Ondaatje

I loved this book Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, I’ve read all of his books and loved them all, his writing has added so much to my enjoyment and knowledge when travelling in Sri Lanka, this book is closer – in form – to his book The English Patient…here is a review by The Guardian and links below to other reviews….

This extract is from the review of Warlight by Michael Ondaatje in The Guardian.

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. Hence the tactics of his best-known novel The English Patient, joint winner of the 1992 Booker prize, in which a potentially very dramatic set of circumstances is generally delivered to the reader by means of hint and indirection: 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. I’m thinking of the lurking crime drama and love drama that remain in the background of his shipboard story The Cat’s Table, for instance; or the absences, stoppages and indirections that prevent Anil’s Ghost – set in war-torn Sri Lanka – from becoming a straightforward war story.

Perhaps all this has something to do with Ondaatje’s less well-known life as a poet (he has published nearly twice as many collections of poetry as he has novels). Paradoxical as it might sound, in this alternative existence he often renders hard facts and moments of explosive action more directly than he does in his fiction: think of his early verse novel The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. But why? Maybe because in fiction Ondaatje feels compelled by the form itself to deal with significant events (bomb disposal, prisoners in cages, civil-war murders) but is faintly embarrassed by the risk of overextrapolating them – and so making them seem banal – in the comparatively roomy spaces of prose. This means that he ends up blurring or disguising everything. Whatever the reason, there exists at the centre of his imagination, and therefore of his work as a whole, a tussle between the urge to reveal and the instinct to suppress and/or conceal. Characteristically, it manifests and seeks to resolve itself in a profound attraction to secrets.

Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje
‘A tussle between the urge to reveal and the instinct to suppress’ …
In Ondaatje’s new novel, his eighth, his appetite for imprecision is stronger than ever (the title itself shrouds the action in a kind of twilight: the dimmed warlight in the wake of the blitz). It opens in 1945 with the departure of 14-year-old Nathaniel Williams’s father to Singapore, ostensibly to work for Unilever, and with the disappearance of his mother, Rose, soon afterwards – probably but not certainly to join her husband overseas. This double abandonment leaves Nathaniel and his elder sister Rachel in the care of a mystery man they call The Moth, who is apparently acting on their parents’ orders, and soon allows them to swap their boarding schools for day schools and so share in the life that he has instigated in their London home. In a swirl of glimpses, one figure at least becomes clear to Nathaniel, even as his nature remains obscure: a character whose given name eventually turns out to be Norman Marshall, but who is known to our narrator as “the Pimlico Darter” – “the best welterweight north of the river”.


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Comments 5

  1. I’ve read The English Patient and its precursor, In the Skin of the Lion. Normally I prefer the film to the book, but in the case of The English Patient, it was the other way round. For me the film was fascinating and mysterious. I have to agree with the Guardian, I felt he became turgid in his endless description of the role of a sapper and defusing bombs. The whole mood and flow, was adversely interrupted by this endless technical description.

  2. I loved the Cats Table and The English Patient. Now I’m itching to go out and get this one! I didn’t know he was a poet but it makes sense having read his novels.

  3. I loved The English Patient and this introduction to his new novel has certainly whet my appetite.

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  4. Next up in the pile beside the bed. Wonderful evocative writer. So much so you can almost smell the locales he creates and takes you to.

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