I‘m a little ‘warred-out’ these days. Over the past few years I have read quite a few novels set during the World Wars and didn’t really want to read anymore, however, I still picked Warlight from the Man Booker Prize longlist to read because the blurb caught my attention.
The first section of the novel is fascinating and totally engrossing. It is the story of Nathaniel and his sister Rachel, who, when their mother and father mysteriously leave them at the end of WWII, are passed into the care of their mother’s slightly unusual, potentially criminal, friends (‘The Moth’ and ‘The Darter”). The characters are brilliantly well-drawn and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Nathaniel’s work in the hotel and his adventures with dog racing and smuggling. The pace is good and it is plot driven.
The next two sections of the book move forward in time to when Nathaniel is an adult and we learn about his investigation into the mystery that was his mother’s life. The second part of the book is very different from the first, not because the quality of the writing changes but because we are filling in the gaps of Nathaniel’s childhood (the story already told). This is where Ondaatje explores the key themes of the book, including the reality that our childhood memories are not always accurate and the past we remember may be a romanticised version. Therefore, Nathaniel’s disappointment when he discovers the characters from his past are now very different is understandable, but interestingly the places he knew before haven’t changed. It transpires that Nathaniel is not always a reliable narrator and Ondaatje shows we can never fully know the whole story of what we have lived through.
I recommend this book simply because it is beautifully written and poignant. I reckon it is one which will stay with me for a while.