Book review ⋆ Infomania

Book review

10. Warlight

Michael Ondaatje. Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-52119-8The term warlight was used to describe the dimmed lights that guided emergency traffic during London’s wartime blackouts. The word aptly describes the atmosphere of this haunting, brilliant novel from Ondaatje (The Cat’s Table), set in Britain in the decades after WWII, in which many significant facts are purposely shrouded in the semidarkness of history. The narrator, Nathaniel Williams, looks back at the year 1945, when he was 14 and “our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.” Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, are stunned to discover that their mother’s purported reason for leaving them was false. Her betrayal destroys their innocence; they learn to accept that “nothing was safe anymore.” To the siblings’ surprise, however, their designated guardian, their upstairs lodger, whom they call the Moth, turns out to be a kind and protective mentor. His friend, a former boxer nicknamed the Pimlico Darter, is also a kindly guide, albeit one engaged in illegal enterprises in which he enlists Nathaniel’s help. The story reads like a nontraditional and fascinating coming-of-age saga until a violent event occurs midway through; the resulting shocking revelations open the novel’s second half to more surprises. The central irony is Nathaniel’s eventual realization that his mother’s heroic acts of patriotism during and after the war left lasting repercussions that fractured their family. Mesmerizing from the first sentence, rife with poignant insights and satisfying subplots, this novel about secrets and loss may be Ondaatje’s best work yet. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (May)

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