Review: Warlight

by Michael Ondaatje

Warlight is, in my opinion, Ondaatje’s best work to date, and one which will very likely hit the shortlist of, perhaps even garner, several literary accolades.

This is a quiet, unassuming novel, strung with an undercurrent of tension and mystery, even foreboding, revolving around an adolescent boy, Nathaniel, and his sister, Rachel, who are abandoned into the care of a questionable man they call The Moth, and a series of associates who are equally questionable.

The story resolves the identities of the children’s parents, who have allegedly gone off to Singapore on a long-term business engagement, and is set in London, England, during the end of WWII and the subsequent Cold War.

Ondaatje creates characters which should be entirely unbelievable, in surroundings which should be entirely unbelievable. And yet he masterfully sketches them into people you feel you know intimately, without need of questioning plausibility. This is an extraordinary talent and an extraordinary tale.

The prose is gorgeous and yet entirely spare, with a very tight point of view, and rich environmental detail which never diminishes the urgency of the moment.

Truly this is one of the best works of historical fiction I’ve read in many months. Highly recommended.

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