Warlight By Michael Ondaatje – A Review

Publisher: Vintage

Publication Date: 7th June 2018

Oh my goodness did I feel the weight of other people’s expectations with this one!

I was lucky enough to attend the Vintage 2018 showcase in Waterstones Manchester back in March where this book was discussed briefly by one of the publicists. He mentioned a shadowy figure known as The Moth and that right there is what hooked me in.

I left the event thinking about this book and cheekily approached Vintage for a review copy. Lo and behold a mere few days later this beauty popped through my letterbox.

Now, since receiving it I have posted a couple of pictures over on the old ‘gram and Twitter and on each occasion I have been met with exclamations of envy. People declaring Michael Ondaatje as a literary hero, people who cannot wait to hear what it’s all about.

I have to hold my hands up here and say it’s a fair cop guv! I have never read any of Ondaatje’s work, nor have I even watched the film The English Patient. Needless to say I went into this book with a completely clean pallet if you will. A fact which I was happy about if I’m honest. I do enjoy heading into a book with very little idea of the premise.

So, having finally read it, I can now tell you a little about Warlight, not too much though as you’re going to want to discover it for yourselves.

Post WW2 London and Nathaniel and Rachel’s parents have just told them that they are moving away for a year to Singapore whilst their father does some work for his companies office over there. They are to be left in the care of The Moth, a lodger who has been living in one of their upstairs rooms.

Teenagers Nathaniel and Rachel are to still attend their schools and continue their education under the wing of The Moth. Their father leaves for Singapore, and their mother is due to follow on shortly after. When Nathaniel discovers the meticulously packed trunk of his mother left behind after her departure, he finds himself questioning her real whereabouts. With snippets of information regarding her involvement with the war effort told through memories from The Moth, Nathaniel has his suspicions.

Life at Ruvigny Gardens under the care of The Moth quickly becomes hectic and disordered. Their house is often full of lively colourful characters who fly somewhat under the radar of the law. Most notable of which being ex boxer known as The Pimlico Darter whom Nathaniel becomes close to. He also becomes embroiled in some criminal undertakings under cover of darkness along the Thames. Under the tutelage of The Darter he finds himself in some situations and scrapes. Learning the complex life of the criminal underworld.

We later go on to discover just where his mother is and the reasons for her departure. In the latter part of the book we follow Nathaniel as an adult trying to piece together his mother’s secretive life after her death.

This book for me had 2 distinct parts. The first half was by far the more light hearted and humourous. I loved discovering all the colourful characters, larger than life and oh so fascinating. The comings and goings of life at Ruvigny Gardens is fascinating. The relationships Nathaniel builds with these people under various guises are lovely to read. The Darter is one of my favourite characters, bold, striking and outlandish versus The Moth’s quiet reserve.

There is an event around a third of the way through which changed the whole course of the story and the mood for me. From this point on the story takes a more serious turn and the lightheartedness dissipates quite rapidly.

This is not in any way a criticism. I enjoyed getting under the skin of the story. Unravelling the mysteries along with Nathaniel. Discovering just who his mother had been, what her involvement with the war effort had been and how far she had gone to protect her family.

As I said at the start, I’ve never read any Michael Ondaatje but I can assuredly say that I will be doing so in the future. I’ll admit I was intimidated by this book before going into it but the story was beautifully written and very accessible. This book has the double whammy of perfectly depicted characters and an intriguing plot. I don’t really think I can pick any holes in it, nor would I want to.

I would thoroughly recommend it.

Thank you to Vintage for the ARC. I really appreciate it as always.

See you soon

Bookish Chat xxx


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