Rachel's Reviews > Warlight

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
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it was ok
bookshelves: booker-2018, 2018, historical-fiction, literary-fiction

You know those moments when you find an author you think you're going to like, but you chose the wrong book of theirs to start with? That's what happened with Warlight. This was not a good book, but I don't think it's over between me and Ondaatje. More on that in a minute.

Warlight was almost unbearably boring. I'm sorry, I know that 'boring' is the kind of pedestrian critique that we try to stay away from while reviewing, but I'm not sure I've ever read a book that felt this utterly pointless. There's no conflict, no character development, no intrigue, no payoff. This book meandered through the narrator's recollections of his youth in post-war London, halting all too briefly on defining moments, claiming to imbue them with weight but never willing to properly examine them in any kind of broader context. The nonlinear chronology could have been used effectively, but it served only to create such a distance between present-day-Nathaniel and past-Nathaniel that the chapters about his childhood lacked any sort of spark or passion or urgency. The one question that Ondaatje never seems interested in answering is why the reader should care about any of it.

The one saving grace for me was the prose. Ondaatje's writing struck me as both elegant and effortless. There is no question that this book is well-written, and I found myself pausing at certain sentences, impressed by their construction and insight:

You return to that earlier time armed with the present, and no matter how dark that world was, you do not leave it unlit. You take your adult self with you. It is not to be a reliving, but a rewitnessing.


But despite these flickers of profundity in the sentence-by-sentence writing, there isn't a whole lot of emotional depth to this novel on the whole. For a novel purportedly about memory and perception and unearthing the truth, far too much remains unexhumed. The whole thing is bizarrely perfunctory and passionless, and there is no doubt in my mind that Warlight's inclusion on the Booker longlist is an homage to Ondaatje's illustrious career more than a reflection of the quality of this particular novel. But, again, I'm willing to read more Ondaatje in the future, as I refuse to believe this is the height of what he's capable of.
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Reading Progress

July 25, 2018 – Shelved
July 25, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
July 25, 2018 – Shelved as: booker-2018
September 11, 2018 – Started Reading
September 11, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018
September 15, 2018 –
42.0%
September 16, 2018 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
September 16, 2018 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
September 16, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)

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message 1: by Crumb (new)

Crumb I hate when that happens. I did enjoy your review, though!


Rachel Crumb wrote: "I hate when that happens. I did enjoy your review, though!"

Thanks! It's such a shame, there was so much potential there.


message 3: by Joe (last edited Sep 19, 2018 10:32AM) (new)

Joe Valdez Wonderfully written and honest review, Rachel. I really love your candor and thoughtfulness. Thank you for warning me about this one; I've never read Michael Ondaatje.


Rachel Joe wrote: "Wonderfully written and honest review, Rachel. I really love your candor and thoughtfulness. Thank you for warning me about this one; I've never read Mochael Ondaatje."

Thanks Joe! Glad you appreciate the candid approach :)


message 5: by Kirat (new)

Kirat Kaur I really think The English Patient was the zenith of his career. The movie is a very different beast, so when u do read it, do it without the film in mind, if that’s possible.


Rachel Kirat wrote: "I really think The English Patient was the zenith of his career. The movie is a very different beast, so when u do read it, do it without the film in mind, if that’s possible."

Haven't seen the film, so it is indeed very possible!


Shannon Benson Due to lack of time to process my review, it was very simple but you took the real words right out of my mouth! His prose is beautiful. It was like listening to a baritone Brit tell a story. You could listen to him read the encyclopedia because his voice, tone and delivery are mesmerizing but when he says, “Tne End” you look back and realize you aren’t sure of anything that was actually said.


Elizabeth Your comments opened my eyes to what I was reading. You describe drifting and lack of character development as faults, but to me, they are the point. His parents thrust him into a life over which he had no control, within which he could trust no one. In such circumstances, reflection and character development are counter-productive activities. The shallowness is the point, if it leads to survival. I haven’t finished the book yet, but that’s my take 2/3 of the way through. Very enjoyable,


Rachel Shannon wrote: "Due to lack of time to process my review, it was very simple but you took the real words right out of my mouth! His prose is beautiful. It was like listening to a baritone Brit tell a story. You co..."

Sorry I'm late replying to this comment, but that's EXACTLY how I felt. I'm eager to read more Ondaatje because his writing was so stellar, but this was not the book for me.


Rachel Elizabeth wrote: "Your comments opened my eyes to what I was reading. You describe drifting and lack of character development as faults, but to me, they are the point. His parents thrust him into a life over which h..."

That's funny that we picked up on similar aspects but ended up with vastly different assessments of the novel as a whole. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!


Tammy I had the same experience with this, Rachel. Wonderful review


Rachel Tammy wrote: "I had the same experience with this, Rachel. Wonderful review"

Thanks Tammy! Your review also captured my own thoughts perfectly.


Anita Pomerantz Wow, I'm just reading reviews of Warlight to refresh my memory for a discussion with a friend who just finished it. We practically wrote the same review. Yours is stated much better, but in terms of our assessment, we really saw eye to eye.


Anita Pomerantz I did give it three stars, but I was being extra generous.


Rachel Anita wrote: "Wow, I'm just reading reviews of Warlight to refresh my memory for a discussion with a friend who just finished it. We practically wrote the same review. Yours is stated much better, but in terms o..."

Ohhh I do love when that happens. Twice in one week after The Maze of Windermere! Off to check out your Warlight review.


Anita Pomerantz Rachel wrote: "Anita wrote: "Wow, I'm just reading reviews of Warlight to refresh my memory for a discussion with a friend who just finished it. We practically wrote the same review. Yours is stated much better, ..."

I know! That was so funny - - and it doesn't usually happen where someone's review is exactly what I am thinking. Although I prefer how you express the ideas! I just finished The Maze . . .still feeling the same way, but need to write my review.


Rachel Anita wrote: "Rachel wrote: "Anita wrote: "Wow, I'm just reading reviews of Warlight to refresh my memory for a discussion with a friend who just finished it. We practically wrote the same review. Yours is state..."

I'm so looking forward to your full review of The Maze! It's so validating when someone else's thoughts echo your own so well.


message 18: by Janne (new)

Janne Thank you for this. have been struggling to distill my reaction to this work. I read it cover to cover, and ended up annoyed and depressed. I did enjoy The Moth and The darter though.


message 19: by Isabel (new)

Isabel Tipple Glad i’m not the only one left feeling less than overjoyed at this novel. Yes, there are some nicely descriptive prose passages but not much of a compelling storyline. None of it was particularly memorable for me i’m afraid. I feel William Boyd would have done a much better job on the subject matter.


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