Book Habit Blog - Warlight - Michael Ondaatje

by Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize winning novel, The English Patient, was published in 1993.  Ondaatje is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian who is lauded as a poet, fiction writer and essayist. His most recent novel, Warlight, is on par with The English Patient - a riveting story written in poetic prose.

Told in first-person narrative, the protagonist is a boy, Nathaniel, (later grown to manhood) who describes his early teenage life when his parents left him and his sister to travel to his father's new place of work in Singapore for a year or so. The book is set at the end of World War II. His parents leave them in London with a dubious character who they nickname "The Moth,"

The two young teenagers believe that "The Moth" and some of his compatriots who visit the house are criminals, but of an ilk they cannot identify. Warlight refers to  evening black outs during the war where fog and ambient light are a metaphor for the shifting and unknowable canvas upon which the young people build their view of reality. The mother reappears and the plot cascades into an older Nathaniel's reflections on his life and the people with whom he had a connection.

"I know how to fill in a story from a grain of sand or a fragment of discovered truth. In retrospect the grains of sand had always been there..." (p. 276)

Warlight showcases Ondaatje's lyrical prose, the compassion he offers to his characters and his superb mastery of literary craft.