Paperback ´ Warlight eBook Ú

Paperback ´ Warlight eBook Ú

Warlight ➹ [Read] ➵ Warlight By Michael Ondaatje ➼ – In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire It is , and London is still reel In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire It is , and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war yearold Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate in rather unusual ways Rachel and Nathaniel But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel.

10 thoughts on “Warlight

  1. Tammy Tammy says:

    This might have been a coming of age novel but it’s not. It might have been a post WWII novel but it’s not. It might have been a family drama of sorts but it’s not. The narration is messy, the plot is pointless and the premise is unbelievable. Warlight meandered about without a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

  2. Will Byrnes Will Byrnes says:

    In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.
    When we are young we rely on the people who surround us to introduce us to the world, to explain the many elements of life that can be so confusing, overwhelming, or simply opaque to young eyes. Some of this knowledge can only come from first-hand experience, but it helps to have adults at hand, of a trustworthy sort, who can help us along the road of becoming. Nathaniel (aka Stitch) is fourteen. His sister, Rachel, (aka Wren) is sixteen when their parents depart for Singapore on mysterious government assignments after the war, leaving them in the care of the boarder they call “The Moth,” and a fluid cast of what can only be considered dodgy characters, reminiscent of Caravaggio from The English Patient, who was both a criminal and a spy.

    Questionable they may be, at first glance anyway, but they are a remarkably colorful lot. One of my favorites was one Norman Marshall, aka The Pimlico Darter, aka The Darter, a fellow with a taste for cheating at dog-race betting and transporting materials uncertain, nicely hidden in boxes, from one place to another under cover of night. All very hush-hush, and possibly criminal. There are plenty of other lively supporting characters who stroll, dash, or creep across the pages.
    The house felt more like a night zoo, with moles and jackdaws and shambling beasts who happened to be chess players, a gardener, a possible greyhound thief, a slow- moving opera singer.
    It is among these remarkable personalities that Nat and Rachel are introduced to the realities of a world that exists largely in shadows, the dim light redolent of wartime London, or warlight of the title. The first part of the story, Nat and Rachel’s adolescence, takes place in the immediate post-war period. The curtain between war and post-war being sometimes permeable, they are affected by events of a continuing shadow engagement, in which war-time battle driven by armored divisions, fleets of ships, and waves of aircraft was replaced by the dimly-lit conflict of combatants in street clothes, engaged in theatres where stealth and treachery defined the landscape.
    We passed industrial buildings, their lights muted, faint as stars, as if we were in a time capsule of the war years when blackouts and curfews had been in effect, when there was just warlight and only blind barges were allowed to move along this stretch of river.
    The focus is primarily on Nathaniel, with Rachel relegated to activities that are mostly reported rather seen first-hand. There is a strong element of coming of age here for Nat, whose experiences in the world of work, whether legal or not, and adventures with the opposite sex expose him to a broader vision of the world. With both parents away, he must look to the adults at hand for role models. It would help if he actually knew what they were really on about.

    Michael Ondaatje - image from his FB pages

    Further on, we meet him in his late twenties, in a surprising profession, focused on learning the full truth of his mother’s involvement in the war, and with related tasks after.
    …There’s a photograph I have of my mother in which her features are barely revealed. I recognize her from just her stance, some gesture in her limbs, even though it was taken before I was born… I found it years later in the spare bedroom among the few remnants she had decided not to throw away. I have it with me still. This almost anonymous person, balanced awkwardly, holding on to her own safety. Already incognito.
    Nat’s search for the truth of his mother, Rose’s, life is, in a way, a stand-in for seeking the truth of his own. Telemachus wanting to learn of his mother’s odyssey. While the primary focus of the book is on Nathaniel, Rose comes in for the next-most attention. Her history is fascinating, and a delight to read.

    There are many echoes here of the author’s prior work. (I have read several, but not all of his earlier six novels) As he has done before, Ondaatje takes us into war from a place of later reflection through older, wiser eyes, which may remind readers of Anil recalling ethnic slaughter in Sri Lanka in Anil’s Ghost, or the many war scenes in The English Patient.
    You return to that earlier time armed with the present, and no matter how dark that world was, you do not leave it unlit. You take your adult self with you. It is not to be a reliving, but a rewitnessing.
    In our look-back, Rose and others engage in mortally perilous missions. Some do battle on the homefront as well, although no less dangerously. Scarring is another feature Ondaatje returns to. The English Patient was surely a high point in the literature of skin miseries. But the experience that scarring suggests shows up here as well. An immigrant with whom Nat works as a teen sports noticeable facial scarring. A co-worker of his mother has less than beautiful hands from his scaling interest. Another has abdominal marks that were clearly nearly mortal and Rose has a decent dose of skin-told-tales as well.

    He also sustains the motif of almost-darkness in looking back at this time, as well as in the characters’ initial experience of it.
    There are times these years later, as I write all this down, when I feel as if I do so by candlelight.
    The darkness extends to identification as well, given how many of the characters are known by their colorful noms du guerre rather than by what might appear on their birth certificates.

    There are bits of payload you will appreciate here, information about the real world that appears in the story, some information on greyhounds and dog-racing, and covert programs to cope with domestic security risks. You will get a feel for life in London during the aftermath of war, and also in The Saints, an area of England new to me. You will pick up a bit on the range of bird whistle signals that might be used by a secretive Thames-borne barge, and most surprisingly learn a bit about stegophily. (you have to click, at least, to learn that one.) Ondaatje mentions a program of post-war mopping up, called The Silent Correction. I do not know if it refers to something real or imagined. My googling yielded nothing informative, but it does seem like the sort of thing that would have existed. An abbey that is put to another purpose is a fun-fact. An interesting element is the acquisition of skills that might not be so readily acquired during peacetime. A bee-keeper, for example, has a questionable talent for anaesthetics gained during the Italian campaign. A veterinarian is a skilled lock-picker.

    Ondaatje plants seeds early in the tale that grow to mighty oaks by the end. There is a large twist, serving to remind how what has happened can define what is and direct what can be.
    We are foolish as teenagers. We say wrong things, do not know how to be modest, or less shy. We judge easily. But the only hope given us, although only in retrospect, is that we change. We learn, we evolve. What I am now was formed by whatever happened to me then, not by what I have achieved, but by how I got here. But who did I hurt to get here? Who guided me to something better? Or accepted the few small things I was competent at? Who taught me to laugh as I lied?...But above all, most of all, how much damage did I do?
    As in most good novels, there are Easter-egg clues to the novelist’s craft.
    a high perspective, as from a belfry or cloister roof, allows you to see over walls into usually hidden distances, as if into other lives and countries, to discover what might be occurring there, a lateral awareness allowed by height.
    This nicely reflects the author’s on-high ability to see past windows into the secrets of his/her characters’ lives. And another nugget.
    Who made me move from just an interest in “characters” to what they would do to others?
    And just in case you were not aware, Ondaatje’s writing is poetical, exquisite, and moving. There are many passages in Warlight that call you to return, mull, and savor. A writer who is not fond of linear narrative, he jumps about without much warning, but attentive readers should have little difficulty knowing when they are in the narrative. While considerable attention is paid to the business of international intrigue, that seems more to provide a palette against which the characters can be displayed.

    Warlight may be about the dim light of history, secrecy, mystery, and uncertainty, but it glows with the luminescence of a master story-teller at the peak of his power. Whether you read by the glow of a low-wattage bulb or under the blaze of the noonday sun, the sparkle will shine through. I found Nat’s story, as well as his mother’s, compelling. Nat’s yearning to cast light on his family’s secrets will lead you along, teach you a thing or two, tug on your emotions, and leave you dazzled. Ondaatje’s portrait of coming of age during dire times, and the perils and prices of desperate measures, will keep you turning pages, whatever the candle-power at your disposal. The challenge of making moral decisions under dangerous and murky conditions that is presented here should, nonetheless, leave you with a simple, unambiguous, choice. Warlight is such a brilliant piece of work that you might need shades.

    Review posted – May 4, 2018

    Publication – May 8, 2018

    I received the book from the publisher's First To Read program in return for an honest review. I will post the dishonest review elsewhere.
    =============================EXTRA STUFF

    Michael Ondaatje on FB

    The Guardian - MO reading an essay he wrote while staying in Conrad’s boat in London Guardian Artangel books podcast: Michael Ondaatje

    June 4, 2007 – The New Yorker - The Aesthete: The novel and Michael Ondaatje by Louis Menand – a fascinating analysis of MO’s work -
    He is not telling stories; he is using the elements of storytelling to gesture in the direction of a constellation of moods, themes, and images. He is creating the literary equivalent of a Cornell box or a rock garden or a floral arrangement.
    July 18, 2018 - Warlight is long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Award for Fiction

  3. Elyse Walters Elyse Walters says:

    Damn this was good!!!!
    I purposely stayed away from reviews- but now I’m dying to read what others have to say - especially since I’m ‘long-winded review-retired’ for the rest of 2018.

    From the title itself, “Warlight”, to the luring first line in the novel - “In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals”......I was completely captivated to the end.

    Nathaniel—is an adult writing about his life.
    In childhood, Nathaniel, 14, and Rachel 16, get entangled with a slew of fascinating sinewy boisterous characters whom most seem to have nicknames. The siblings and their mother also have nicknames…very symbolic to this novel: everyone being a substitute. Smugglers and low lives replace parents.

    From Nathaniel’s childhood to his adult years he is most unsettled with his mother. Her secrets - lies - betrayal- and heroism - resulted in adverse blacklash for their family.
    The questions that troubled Nathaniel about his mother -things not fitting together- haunting & mysterious —were insightful about post war life.
    Past wars are never past. The loss, destruction, and hurt still lives.

    Michael Ondaatje is phenomenally talented. His prose is powerful and luminous.

    Extraordinary mysterious atmosphere—a few violent scenes - seductive to the end.

  4. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    “Mahler put the word schwer beside certain passages in his musical scores. Meaning ‘difficult.’ ‘Heavy.’ We were told this at some point by The Moth, as if it was a warning. He said we needed to prepare for such moments in order to deal with them efficiently, in case we suddenly had to take control of our wits. Those times exist for all of us, he kept saying. Just as no score relies on only one pitch or level of effort from musicians in the orchestra. Sometimes it relies on silence. It was a strange warning to be given, to accept that nothing was safe anymore. ‘Schwer,’  he’d say, with his fingers gesturing the inverted commas, and we’d mouth the word and then the translation, or simply nod in weary recognition. My sister and I got used to parroting the word back to each other—“schwer.”

    Nothing is safe, and no one can be trusted.

    The war is over, but not for everyone. Those who had been working in the shadows during WW2 are now being asked to transition to a new war that would eventually be referred to as The Cold War. Some, like Rachel and Nathaniel’s mother and father, want to walk away from their clandestine work, but with the powerful enemies they have made, that is proving impossible. They either know too much or they have thwarted too many insidious plans.

    Of course, we can only speculate because Rose Williams does not talk about her life during the war. To her children, her life is an enigma that can only be unraveled with truth serum. She is not an ideal mother. She is distant when they want her to be warm. She gives cryptic advice when they need her reassurances.

    Rose admits: ”My sins are various,” which is still an obscuring statement, but about as close to a personal admission as Nathaniel will ever get from her.

    And then their father and mother disappear.

    Rachel has just turned 16, and Nathaniel is 14. They are left in the hands of a man they call The Moth and another more dynamic personality called The Darter. The family makes a habit of assigning people nicknames; Rachel is Wren, and Nathaniel is Stitch. We can call them nicknames, but knowing the background of their parents, we can’t help but think of them as codenames. Names to call someone that won’t reveal them for who they really are.

    The Moth and The Darter are an odd pairing, but then these are unusual circumstances that require people who can protect them rather than be the surrogate parents they wish for. The interesting friends and associates, especially of Darter, who Stitch and Wren come into contact with provide a view of alternative lifestyles that are sometimes disconcerting, but whether they know it or not, those brief contacts with those people are expanding their definitions of what a normal life looks like. The contact is brief indeed. Just when they start to know someone, they disappear, never to be seen again, which each time is like losing their parents all over again.

    One woman, in particular, proves memorable, especially for Stitch. She is Olive Lawrence, an ethnographer with way too much class to be the girlfriend of a barge rat like The Darter, but there is something about him that fascinates her. ”There was something in these professional women that suggested it was not a case of The Darter’s selecting them but of the women’s choosing him; as if Olive Lawrence, a specialist in distant cultures, had stumbled suddenly on a man who reminded her of an almost extinct medieval species, a person still unaware of any of the principal courtesies introduced in the past hundred years.”

    School becomes a secondary concern for Stitch as he starts to help The Darter with his rather clandestine midnight activities. He might be ferrying greyhounds from other countries to be used in one of the numerous illegal betting tracks, or it might be something much more dangerous. Stitch is a natural at covert activities.

    (view spoiler)[ And then his mother returns. (hide spoiler)]

  5. Hannah Greendale Hannah Greendale says:

    In Warlight, Ondaatje has crafted an ode to twentieth-century storytelling. A purposeless hero, a disdain for plot, and a lack of sensational revelations equate to a mind-numbing read in which nothing much happens.

    In 1945 London, fourteen-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, are abandoned by their parents, left in the care of a guardian selected by their mother. By following Nathaniel in his formative years, Ondaatje presumably intends to explore the aftereffects of war, to examine how a family is devastated by a pressing obligation to their country. However, Nathaniel is largely indifferent to his parents’ departure. He barely knew his father, and his mother’s absence is quickly overshadowed by the behavior of his strange-mannered guardian (nicknamed “The Moth”) and the peculiar social circle The Moth inhabits.

    Warlight’s dust jacket proclaims this is a narrative “as mysterious and luminous as memory itself,” but there’s nothing mysterious about this book. Who Nathaniel’s parents were during the war, the seemingly questionable behavior of The Moth, and the criminal deeds of his acquaintances are either easily discernable or undisguised.

    And, yes, the narrative is justifiably nonchronological, mimicking how memory does not follow a linear path, but these glimpses into Nathaniel’s past are lusterless because he doesn’t change by the end of the book. Nathaniel lacks an arc; he faces no moral quandary, no point of growth that forces readers to question where he started or how he arrived at a significant moment in adulthood. Even the people who surround Nathaniel remain largely unchanged. And since everyone mostly gets along, there’s an aching lack of conflict.

    One of the redeeming qualities of Warlight are the tender moments shared between Nathaniel and Rachel, particularly when her epileptic fits strike. However, faint glimpses of their closeness prove inconsequential when, as adults, they opt to fend for themselves; a separateness Nathaniel reveals with nonchalance.

    Had Ondaatje opted to follow Rachel, Warlight might have been salvaged. She’s the only character notably affected by her mother’s absence. “It is Rachel, who needed a close relationship with a mother during that time,” Nathaniel explains, “to protect her in the way a mother could.” It is Rachel who first thinks their guardian is a criminal and later becomes “surprisingly fond of talking to him.” Rachel whose life choices as an adult echo the instances that shattered her formative years.

    Antiplot, stagnant characters, and a lack of mystery make Warlight a sleepy addition to the 2018 Man Booker Prize longlist.

  6. Violet wells Violet wells says:

    A master craftsman at the height of his powers. I could have gone on reading this until kingdom come. If I had to compare Ondaajte's novels with a city it would be Venice. Venice which so eloquently visualises the poetic ordering demands of memory and the exalting aspirations of identity. Venice which is washed through with the simultaneously life affirming and melancholy tang of tidal salt water.

    Warlight is a novel about the secret underlife of identity and about how we seek to construct memory in a narrative form to sustain a structure of order. Perhaps the most mysterious people in our lives are our own parents. Behind the domestic façade how much is hidden from us. Our parents perhaps more than anyone make us realise how much is censored and even left out in talk. When interrogated they stick to their cover stories, like the best undercover agent. They have a secret life of which we generally have little inkling. Thus if you're going to write a novel about a son seeking to piece together his mother's life after her death it's a simple stroke of genius to make her a secret agent. All our parents are secret agents. They exert as much energy in hiding themselves from us as making themselves known.

    All the light in this novel is clandestine, evanescent, stolen or tricked from a felt pervading darkness. Narratively it follows the principles of memory. The bigger picture is always elusive; isolated detail as if picked out by torchlight has to be padded out to provide a storyline. As the author says at the end, We order our lives with barely held stories.

    As you'd expect with Onjaadte, Warlight is beautiful, poetic, romantic, fabulously constructed but, more surprisingly, it's also very exciting. The son, abandoned by his parents for the duration of the war, never quite knows the true nature of the roles played by the guardians of his adolescence nor is ever told where his mother and father are. All these guardians are exceptionally gifted and enigmatic people (you might say Onjaadte doesn't do ordinary people). Everyone has a secret life utterly unknown to our narrator the puzzles of which he will seek to piece together retrospectively as an adult. It's a novel with a big wise heart that makes you love life. Memorable images abound, like the nighttime river journeys, the midnight scalings of Cambridge's spired buildings, the lovemaking in empty apartments. The best novel I've read this year by a long shot and for me the most exciting book of the decade so far.

  7. Jaline Jaline says:

    This is a novel about the after-shock of WWII in the lives of one family. I don’t know if the rest of the Allies experienced it the same way, but in Europe, the adjustment period was in many ways as cruel and fierce and bloody as the war itself. And it went on for years.

    Nathaniel (14) and his sister Rachel (16) inherited much of that chaotic time. As Nathaniel narrates his recollections of this period in their lives, I felt such a deep sadness for these two. The teen years can be challenging enough without the added confusions of a father supposedly pursuing business interests in Asia, and a mother who supposedly joined him, yet left her trunk behind buried under boxes and tarps in the basement of their home.

    They were supposed to be in boarding school while their upstairs neighbour, nicknamed The Moth by the teenagers, held the home together. It didn’t last long as neither Nathaniel nor Rachel wanted to be in their respective boarding schools. Without fuss, The Moth withdrew them and entered them as day students - and thus began the strangest part of their teen years.

    Is this a coming-of-age story? Yes, and no. After experiencing much of their teen years through Nathaniel’s recollections, there is a leap from the time Nathaniel is about 18 until about a decade later.

    Is this a spy story? Yes, and no. There is definitely undercover work involved and many strange people and incidents that Nathaniel doesn’t put together until he is a young adult.

    Is this a love story? Yes, and no. There is love involved – between family members, between young people and older people; yet again – many of the relationships are a puzzle to Nathaniel and he always feels too many of the pieces are missing to see what the finished product is supposed to look like.

    Warlight. This refers to the way entire hamlets, villages, and cities were blanketed in darkness during the war. For me, Nathaniel’s efforts to understand and piece together his life in a way that makes sense was the same: blanketed by blackout curtains and coverings, blocking the light on the other side and preventing him from seeing what he seeks.

    This story is sad, poignant and completely without drama. In the end, I had a feeling that I had just listened to someone’s story of their life – as accurately told as possible from their point of view. Simultaneously, I felt the pathos of knowing that all the other people involved in the story would have their own perspective on the events of that time – and that all of them would be as real and true to their lives as Nathaniel’s story was for him.

    For me, this book solidified my impressions of Michael Ondaatje’s status as a genius of storytelling. His brilliant writing never gets in the way of the story and I feel that is why this book touched me so deeply. I am still reeling with the realities that these people experienced and their acceptance of their lives as ones they may not have chosen, but ones that chose them.

    This book gave me much to ponder as I read, and I am sure that I will not forget it any time soon. I highly recommend this for readers who prefer depth and fresh perspectives in their reading.

  8. Paromjit Paromjit says:

    An extraordinarily multilayered and complex historical novel exploring the nature of memory, and a coming of age story set primarily in post war London in 1945. Nathaniel, 14, and his older sister, Rachel are ostensibly abandoned to the care of what they perceive as oddball, suspect and criminal characters. They are chiefly The Moth, their lodger, ex- boxer The Pimlico Darter and others that enter their lives, some fleetingly, but never to be forgotten such as Olive Lawrence, the independent woman and ethnographer, who takes them on enlightening night walks. Their father has gone to Singapore and their mother, Rose, follows him. At their tender age, Nathaniel and Rachel are concerned by their safety and whether they can trust their offbeat and mysterious carers. However, it transpires school life is insipid in comparison to what they learn informally from the motley crew that gather in their home. Key moments in their lives, such as Rachel's epileptic fits are nonchalantly but expertly dealt with, thereby building an underlying sense that there are hidden depths, safety and protection that they can count on from The Moth and his cohorts.

    Nathaniel experiences the shadows of London and wartime activities, gaining insights into the corruption of greyhound racing and night river trips, entering empty homes, having sex with Agnes Street, not her real name, and so much more, Nathaniel is to learn that there is much he is unaware of. His mother's life is a closed book, whilst bringing the dangers of espionage slamming into their lives. The older Nathaniel begins to piece together the past and throw light on the clandestine characters, most notably his mother as a spy, and events, existing below the radar, perceived only in the dim warlight where much is unseen and redacted in a pivotal period of his and Rachel's life that is to mark them indelibly. This journey to find out who his mother was, and learn more about the bunch of individuals who looked after him, who opened his eyes to hidden and surprising worlds, leads him to shine a light on himself and the effects of his actions and decisions on others. This is a beautiful exploration of memories, of the nature of war and espionage, of being a parent and the needs of children, of trust, of physical and metaphorical scars, and a historical period where secrecy was paramount, individually and nationally. Highly recommended.

  9. Annet Annet says:

    Wew, this was a tough and beautiful book at the same time. It is a coming of age story of fourteen-year old Nathaniel (the narrator of this story, looking back....) and his older sister Rachel, in post-war England. Their parents have disappeared from their lives and they are surrounded by a colorful set of characters who seem there to protect them. Mysterious, intriguing, I mean, what is going on... all those characters and also beautiful storytelling and beautiful language. But tough story to get into, for me. It did take me a while, this is a book you have to pursue without hesitating, not stop, take a few pages at least and next day take another few. I see I started this one beginning August. In the beginning I could not get into the book because I put it aside for too long. Focussed on other books. However there is something about this book... that made me start again and again and then read it slowly. Beautiful. And I have to read it again soon, to grasp the full of it. Read some of Ondaatje's books and they all made me wanting more... Can understand not everyone likes it. But for me... four stars plus.

    Nowadays, I eat at the hour the greyhound does. And in the evening when he feels ready for sleep, he will drift silently to the table where I work, and lower his tired head onto my hand, in order to stop me. I know this is for comfort, needing something warm and human for security, a faith in another. He comes to me even with all my separateness and uncertainties. But I too wait for this. As if he might wish to tell me about his haphazard life, a part I do not know. All the unrevealed needfulness that must be in him. So... I have the dog beside me, who needs my hand...

  10. Katie Katie says:

    I wish I hadn't read this
    Because then I'd still have it to read
    Just stunning.

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