Sri Lankan born, English Educated, Canadian citizen Michael Ondaatje may be one of the greatest living novelists in the English language, and in Warlight, he does not disappoint. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak and read from the novel in June 2018 and the tale he told, not only the fictional tale but of the personal experience that he drew from, fascinated me enough to accidentally buy the book twice.
Ondaatje said that with this novel, he was, to paraphrase, interested in exploring the barrier between war and peace. Our narrator is 28-year-old Nathanial. At the beginning of the novel, he tells the tale of his 14-year-old self who, along with his sister, Rachael, has been left by their parents with only a caretaker who has no relationship to the family and is referred to as 'The Moth'. Nathanial gives us an account of what post-war London was like; not quite healed but trying to move on. He works with the dubious 'Darter' doing jobs like washing dishes and smuggling dogs on canals at night and spends his free time pursuing Agnes, who has accessibility to empty houses thanks to her estate agent brother.
The second half of the novel takes a darker turn when Nathaniel, now 25 attempts to put the pieces of his childhood together in a way that makes sense to him. His mother, Rose, is a secret agent with a war-time past. Intertwined with her story is that of Marsh Felon, a childhood friend of Rose. We learn the events that crushed Nat's idyllic carefree childhood experience with the Moth and Darter and brought his mother back to him.
There is an absolute ease to everything Ondaatje writes, from The English Patient to Cat's Table and now to Warlight. It would be hard not to pick this book up and finish it quickly.