Reviews for Warlight

by Michael Ondaatje

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In 2017, Ondaatje (The English Patient, The Cat's Table) donated his personal archive, complete with his notebooks and correspondence with Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood, to the University of Texas, allowing the public a glimpse into his detailed and intricate approach to narrative, language, and anatomy of his novels. Here, Ondaatje weaves writings and newspaper articles into a narrative about the complexity of family history within the long shadow of World War II. Reflecting on the gaps in his own family history and his mother's mysterious disappearance when he was a teen, Nathaniel searches for a way to better understand his mother's idiosyncrasies. Through archival recordings and interviews with the eccentric characters from his childhood, a mosaic slowly emerges that illuminates not only his mother's story but the forgotten lives buried under the history of war. VERDICT Ondaatje's prose encapsulates readers in the dreariness of London and the claustrophobic confines of Nathaniel's experience, explicating the verbosity of silence that lingers in the haunting aftermath of global war. [See Prepub Alert, 11/6/17.]-Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
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The term warlight was used to describe the dimmed lights that guided emergency traffic during London's wartime blackouts. The word aptly describes the atmosphere of this haunting, brilliant novel from Ondaatje (The Cat's Table), set in Britain in the decades after WWII, in which many significant facts are purposely shrouded in the semidarkness of history. The narrator, Nathaniel Williams, looks back at the year 1945, when he was 14 and "our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals." Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, are stunned to discover that their mother's purported reason for leaving them was false. Her betrayal destroys their innocence; they learn to accept that "nothing was safe anymore." To the siblings' surprise, however, their designated guardian, their upstairs lodger, whom they call the Moth, turns out to be a kind and protective mentor. His friend, a former boxer nicknamed the Pimlico Darter, is also a kindly guide, albeit one engaged in illegal enterprises in which he enlists Nathaniel's help. The story reads like a nontraditional and fascinating coming-of-age saga until a violent event occurs midway through; the resulting shocking revelations open the novel's second half to more surprises. The central irony is Nathaniel's eventual realization that his mother's heroic acts of patriotism during and after the war left lasting repercussions that fractured their family. Mesmerizing from the first sentence, rife with poignant insights and satisfying subplots, this novel about secrets and loss may be Ondaatje's best work yet. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (May)


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* The smoke has yet to clear in war-battered 1945 London when Nathaniel, 14, and his sister, Rachel, 16, are left in the care of a man they call the Moth, about whom they know nearly nothing. Nathaniel is certain that the Moth and his curious friends, especially the former boxer known as the Darter, are criminals, and, indeed, he is soon caught up in strange and dangerous undertakings involving barges on the Thames at night and clandestine deliveries. Even Nathaniel's first sexual relationship is illicit, as the young lovers meet in empty houses, thanks to her real-estate agent brother. Evidence slowly accrues suggesting that Nathaniel and Rachel's mother, Rose, may be with British intelligence. Ondaatje's (The Cat's Table, 2011) gorgeous, spellbinding prose is precise and lustrous, witty, and tender. As the painful truth of this fractured family emerges and Rose's riveting story takes center stage, Ondaatje balances major and minor chords, sun and shadow, with masterful grace beautifully concentrated in warlight, his term for the sparest possible illumination during the city's defensive blackouts. With vivid evocations of place, quiet suspense, exquisite psychological portraiture, and spotlighted historical events a legendary chess game; horrific, hidden postwar vengeance; and the mass destruction of government archives Ondaatje's drolly charming, stealthily sorrowful tale casts subtle light on secret skirmishes and wounds sustained as war is slowly forged into peace. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A concerted publicity effort and cross-country author tour will support this stellar novel by a literary giant with a tremendous readership.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2018 Booklist


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

"Ours was a family with a habit for nicknames, which meant it was also a family of disguises," 14-year-old Nathaniel, aka Stitch, reveals early in Ondaatje's newest fiction. Narrator Steve West-London-born like Ondaatje's protagonist-confidently takes Nathaniel from bewildered teenager abandoned to strangers with his sister Rachel by their parents to determined young man piecing together his family's mysteriously pixilated history. West adapts easily from teen Nathaniel to adult caretakers, especially convincing as growling Darter, one of the frequent visitors to their parent-less home. In postwar 1945, reinvention is both opportunity and necessity, and the siblings survive watching and learning from their unexpected house-squatters. By the time they discover their parents' deception-their mother, at least, is not where, or even who, she's supposed to be-Nathaniel and Rachel are no longer safe; their mother proves to be both provoker and protector. West deftly unravels that parent's fascinating story with steely resolve, even in the most desperate situations in which the mother must always maintain absolute control. VERDICT Libraries should be prepared to offer Warlight in all formats. ["Ondaatje's prose encapsulates readers in the dreariness of London and the claustrophobic confines of Nathaniel's experience": LJ 4/15/18 review of the Knopf hc.]-Terry Hong, -Smithsonian BookDragon, -Washington, DC Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Acclaimed novelist Ondaatje (The Cat's Table, 2011, etc.) returns to familiar ground: a lyrical mystery that plays out in the shadow of World War II.In what is arguably his best-known novel, The English Patient (1992), Ondaatje unfolds at leisurely pace a story of intrigue and crossed destinies at the fringes of a global struggle. If anything, his latest moves even more slowly, but to deliberate effect. As it opens, with World War II grinding to a gaunt end, Nathaniel Williams, 14, and his 15-year-old sister, Rachel, learn that their parents are bound for newly liberated Singapore. Rose, their mother, has made the war years bearable with Mrs. Miniver-like resoluteness, but the father is a cipher. So he remains. Nathaniel and Rachel, Rose tells them, are to be left in London in the care of some—well, call them associates. They take over the Williams house, a band both piratical and elegant whose characters, from the classically inclined ringleader, The Moth, to a rough-edged greyhound racer, The Pimlico Darter, could easily figure in a sequel to Great Expectations. "It is like clarifying a fable," Ondaatje writes in the person of Nathaniel, "about our parents, about Rachel and myself, and The Moth, as well as the others who joined us later." But that clarification takes a few hundred pages of peering into murky waters: Nathaniel, in adulthood, learns that Rose, who slips back into England soon after sailing away, has been a person of many parts, secretive, in a war that has extended beyond the cease-fire, as partisans battle unrepentant fascists and the early Cold War begins to solidify, a time of betrayal and murder. If Rachel and Nathaniel's adventures among their surrogate parents, who "did not in any way resemble a normal family, not even a beached Swiss Family Robinson," are far from innocent, the lives of all concerned have hidden depths and secrets, some shameful, some inviting murderous revenge.Ondaatje's shrewd character study plays out in a smart, sophisticated drama, one worth the long wait for fans of wartime intrigue.

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