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Book review: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I read this book under pressure, after borrowing it from the library on a one-week loan that cannot be renewed. So, I read it while wrangling my children on a plane to a family holiday, read it while my husband watched the kids in the pool and read it in the morning while the family ate breakfast.

And so, I don’t know whether it was the distractions as I was reading, or the mild panic at the thought of having to return it before I’d finished reading it, but I didn’t love it.

While some considered it one of the best books of the year, I found that I’d forgotten it in the week between returning from my week away and writing their review. This is not a good sign, but is also not unusual for me; unless a book has a real point of difference, I tend to forget the specifics quite quickly.

So, from hazy and corrupted memory, Warlight is the story of children growing up amid the mystery of their mother’s post-war disappearance. Left in the care of a man they refer to as The Moth, the children cope the best way they can, before long discovering that their mother did not join their father in Singapore, as she had told them she would.

Warlight is subtle and eloquent, in which there is an enduring sense of mystery about the characters the children encounter and about the whereabouts and activities of their mother. The personalities and motives of the characters are hard to grasp, as they all move about in a kind of haze. I suppose this reflects the experience of childhood, in which explanations and truths remain in the shadows – in the domain of grown-ups.

Although I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the experience of reading the book (despite the many distractions), the fact that I can’t remember much of it is a little disappointing.


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