Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On the heels of Michael Ondaatje winning the Golden Man Booker Prize for his book The English Patient, his newest novel Warlight is now on the longlist for this year's Man Booker Prize. The English Patient, which won the Man Booker in 1992, is set in 1945 and follows a cast of characters after the end of World War II. Warlight, which is up for the Man Booker now, is set in 1945 and follows a brother and sister after the end of World War II. Oh wait, that's weird....
The book doesn't stay set in 1945. In that year, the siblings are left behind by their parents and when they run away from boarding school they are taken care of by a man who clearly has secrets. They end up meeting people who have code names, and help smuggle greyhounds among other items. That's the first half of the book. In the second half, the son Nathaniel is older and trying to make sense of everything after he thinks he sees his mother at a dance. The first half of the novel reads like a caper, to borrow a word I've seen used a lot with this book, and the second half is much slower as he tries to collect details and connect the dots.
I've seen some people saying this book is dense, but I would say compared with other Man Booker nominees it is a quick mover and was a delight in audio. I listened to the entire thing in between other stuff in two days, moving from 1.25 to 1.5 to 2x speed. The narrator does well. But listening did make me wish that the book had been assembled differently. I think the narrative could have gone back and forth in time with the older Nathaniel's thinking serving as the frame, and it would have felt more balanced and less like two novellas crammed together. I also think some of the details of the "solution" that occur near the end, including the explanation for the title, deserved more time inside the novel.
But I still enjoyed it and think it makes for a pleasant read.
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