I probably went into Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje, with all the wrong expectations — a novel set in London, shortly after WWII, written by the guy who wrote The English Patient? I was expecting something more along the lines of Everyone Brave is Forgiven of All the Light We Cannot See. And this book is nothing like those books. It not exactly experimental, but the tone and the structure makes you do a lot more work than either of those novels.

Warlight is narrated by Nathaniel from later in life, but the whole first section of the book involves him and his sister Rachel in the years shortly after WWII after their parents leave them with “the Moth” while they (allegedly) go to work in Asia. Several of the characters love nicknames, so the Moth and his friend the Darter are rarely referred to by their real names, and instead become these sort of semi-mysterious figures that care for Rachel and Nathaniel while their parents are away. The whole first section reminded me a bit of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (which I also didn’t love) — they are both sort of meandering tales of young men engaging in menial work in London.

The novel never exactly became a page turner for me, but as we shift away from teenage Nathaniel, we learn more about his mother’s mysterious past, the Moth, the Darter, and what everyone was up to during the war years. I really did appreciate the complex picture of WWII the book draws, much less the Brits holding their own honorably, defending the free world, much more, war makes everyone’s hands dirty. One woman explains the little thought of backwaters of the war:

When you threw your support behind the Partisans to crush the Germans, we were all — Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, Italians– categorized by you as Fascists, and German sympathizers. Ordinary people were now criminals of war. Some of us had been your allies, now we were the enemy. A shift of wind in London, some political whisper, so everything changed. Our villages were turned into ground. There’s no evidence of them now. People were lined up in front of common graves, bound with wire so they couldn’t run. Old feuds now an excuse for murder. Other villages also erased.

That said, Warlight just wasn’t really for me. I never really regret reading books from The Tournament of Books, and I’ve read so many over the past couple years that I LOVED from their lists, and maybe it’s good that I read this one that I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up, but meh, certainly not going to re-read it.

Currently reading: Just finished Women Talking and started Mirror, Shoulder, Signal.