“In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.”
That's how Michael Ondaatje's new novel, Warlight, begins. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister Rachel (age 16) are left behind in London when their parents go to Singapore. They leave a mysterious man (who they call "The Moth") to care for them. The book is narrated by an older Nathaniel, who tries to understand what happened when his parents left (and where they went). The book is about trying to make sense of things you really can't fully see, about a tangle of family secrets, and at the heart, it's the story of a mother and son.
And I know nearly every review of Warlight has talked about that opening line, but WHAT an opening line! It really set the tone for the novel; two kids, confused, trying to figure it out. And I really enjoyed it. The pace of the story — of layers slowly peeling back, of finally understanding the motivations of characters chapters after their actions confused me — really worked for me.
I wish we got more time with Rachel (although I know this was Nathaniel's story). I wish Nathaniel's girlfriend got a name, and some real details. But I'm always going to want to understand the female characters more. As the Seattle Times writes, Warlight "is a spy story, a mother-son story and a love story. They are eloquently told and heartbreakingly believable, but the main reason to read this novel is that no other writer builds a world with the delicacy and precision of Michael Ondaatje. You enter it, fall under its spell and never want to leave."
Get it here: https://amzn.to/2G022Ju