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Warlight
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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2018 Booker Longlist: Warlight

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message 1: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1842 comments Mod
Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje


message 2: by Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer (last edited Jul 23, 2018 10:06PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments My review – I found this a quietly impressive book

As has been remarked by Meike - in a year where the obvious candidates have pretty well all been ignored it seems slightly odd to have included this with the author having recently won the Golden Booker (and so not in need of additional publicity)

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Tommi | 490 comments This was a case where listening to the audio book wasn’t the best idea. I presume my lukewarm feelings (3 stars) are a result of not having paid enough attention. I remember that the language was beautiful, so perhaps I should revisit this and read it properly at some stage.


message 4: by Ang (last edited Jul 24, 2018 01:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Having read The English Patient recently and not likimg it much, I am not thrilled that of all the big names whose novels I've bought this year, this is the one that made the list. Among the things I didn't like about The English Patient was too much research showing through (I skimmed the bomb disposal sections). I tried Anil's Ghost several years ago and didn't get far before deciding I didn't like it.

I will read Warlight but I am likely to do some skimming.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 3101 comments Mod
I was not looking forward to this until I saw so many positive reviews, but I am now. I have read a few Ondaatjes, of which the most recent was The Cat's Table, which was fun but a bit lightweight.


Jonathan Pool Ang,
Warlight is totally different in style to The English Patient, so don’t let your recent Ondaatje experience deter you!
Warlight is, I suspect, likely to be enjoyed by the majority of readers (myself included) without, somehow, scaling the heights (deliberate pun here for those who’ve read it), needed to be the overall winner.


message 7: by Roland (last edited Jul 24, 2018 02:04AM) (new) - added it

Roland Freisitzer (rolandf) | 66 comments Jonathan wrote: "Ang,
Warlight is totally different in style to The English Patient, so don’t let your recent Ondaatje experience deter you!
Warlight is, I suspect, likely to be enjoyed by the majority of readers (..."


I loved this one. Absolutely. And I believe it is one of his best. Maybe it doesn't scale the heights needed to be the overall winner, I agree, but it still has to be surpassed by another book. And if there is one among the longlist that does (and wins), it will be an excellent winner this year...


Claire  | 44 comments I also loved this book. I thought The English Patient was kind of ok (but not a huge fan), but this book is so much more. I thought it beautifully written en utterly mesmerising. The way the story develops matches the style of the novel completely. It was one of the best I read this year .


Robert | 1971 comments Ang wrote: "Having read The English Patient recently and not likimg it much, I am not thrilled that of all the big names whose novels I've bought this year, this is the one that made the list. Among the things..."

Actually out of the three Ondaatje's I've read my favourite has to be In the Skin of a Lion - which I found beautiful


message 10: by Carl (new)

Carl (catamite) | 117 comments I read the English Patient and appreciated it more than I enjoyed it. Same for In The Skin of a Lion.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments Ang wrote: "...... Among the things I didn't like about The English Patient was too much research showing through (I skimmed the bomb disposal sections). ..."

Ang - I had exactly the same issue with the English Patient (that and the tacked on ending) which I read after reading this book and thought was disappointing in comparison to Warlight

This book also has a lot of research but here I felt it was very pertinent to the novel. As I commented in my review

At times he can reproduce this research in rather excessive detail (often threatening to disturb the flow of the novel) in a way that reminded me of Ian McEwan in full flow (for example in Saturday). Where I think this novel wins out over McEwan is in the links between the research and the themes of the novel: for example: the London canal networks and coverage of the world of barges on the eastern stretches of the Thames reproduce the ideas of fluid borders – in this case between land and water; the hidden role of Waltham Abbey in munitions manufacture mirrors the hidden roles of many of the characters in the story in wartime



message 12: by Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer (last edited Jul 24, 2018 03:47AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments I found a recurring symbolic theme in this book of shifting borders: the boundary between childhood and adulthood; the literally shifting borders that follow in the re-partitioning of conquered territory at the end of a war: the border between war and peace and how for many participants that border is more blurred than the history books of “VE Day” and so on would have us believe; the border between legality and criminality and the temporary legitimation of the latter in times of war; and particularly the boundary between day time and night time, between dark and light (which leads to the book’s title).


Maddie (ashelfofonesown) | 113 comments I began reading this one on audiobook and the narrator is formidable; however, I see so many of you talking about clues and details, I'm afraid to miss something. I'm really enjoying it tho!


Anita Pomerantz | 127 comments So, I love reading the longlist books, but also need a book club read that fits the theme of "espionage". Can someone who has read this book comment on whether it fits that theme? I can't really find any evidence that it does, but all I've read are marketing blurbs.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments Anita yes definitely.


Anita Pomerantz | 127 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "Anita yes definitely."

Thank you so much for confirming! Greatly appreciated.


message 17: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments I am about a third into this and enjoying it very much. Jonathan, you are right, it is not similar to The English Patient.


Anita Pomerantz | 127 comments Manda wrote: "This is the second I will read, on audible after I’ve finished Snap. Looking forward to this one."

I'm reading Warlight next too, Manda. Just finishing up The Mars Room first.


message 19: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 1859 comments This is next up for me, too.


Anita Pomerantz | 127 comments Neil wrote: "This is next up for me, too."

Fun! I look forward to your review.


message 21: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 257 comments I've never read Ondaatje before, but I very much enjoyed this one.


Meike (meikereads) Like Maddie and Tommi, I listened to the audiobook, and I agree that the narrator is formidable.

I see why many readers might enjoy this, and I also liked how Ondaatje meditates on how we construct ourselves through the past - and he does it in elegic prose, highlighting the details that become instructive to understand the bigger picture, and illustrating the human need to somehow make sense of our own personal history.

Nevertheless, I have a problem with his language and storytelling that is not dissimilar to my feelings towards Paul Auster: This is all so anecdotal, traditional, and polished, that I am constantly longing for something weird to happen, for some wicked twist of his prose, for some sense of urgency to appear - but is all flowing nicely, perfectly tempered, a long narrative stream. It is perfectly done for what it is - and it drives me crazy.

Also, we are already dealing with a longlist that is severely lacking in geographical diversity, and now it turns out that while we have two Canadian nominees, neither of them are actually about Canada (while Washington Black: A Novel spends some time there, you clearly cannot argue that the novel is about Canada). To focus the list on the UK to such a degree is a very bad look, IMHO, especially considering that Australia had two highly topical candidates (The Shepherd's Hut and First Person) and was snubbed, not to speak of India.

Here's my review.


message 23: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 1859 comments Just finished and I can understand why people who like this like it. I didn't dislike it, but I can't get excited about it. It felt too calm and too distant for me to get properly engaged with it, which is strange given the subject matter. When people are smuggling on the river Thames, spying in other countries etc., there should be a sense of drama, but I never felt that.

I liked the ideas about how the present influences our memories. There was even some stuff about destiny (like Everything Under). But the actual story was kept away from us and viewed distantly, I felt.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments Not sure why I am defending this as I was not a huge fan, but could it be argued that the narrator of the book was also distant from most of these events - his involvement with the smuggling is peripheral, that with the overseas spying non existent other than his archival role, and he only really pieces the story together many years later.


message 25: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 1859 comments And I'm not sure why I am attacking it, because I thought it was OK! But you are right, of course. It's just that taking that approach makes for a rather dull book!

Contrary to what several others have written, I rather enjoyed the digressions into topics like greyhound racing etc.. To carry on the analogy from my review about my ferry crossing, they were rather like the times when dolphins or puffins came near the boat: they didn't tell us anything about the journey we were on, but they provided some entertainment to pass the time.


message 27: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3101 comments Mod
I am just over halfway through, and although it is an easy read and an enjoyable one, I don't think it is that special and don't think it deserves to win.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments Particularly in a year when he has won the Golden Booker.


Maddie (ashelfofonesown) | 113 comments Finally posted my review, here.

I started out by disliking the book, nearly dnf'ing it, then completely devouring it; I initially gave it 3.5 stars but I've thought about it ever since I finished reading it, and writing my review really put my feelings into perspective; ultimately, I gave it 5 stars.

I agree it's not the most exciting tale ever written, likely not Ondaatje's best book, and likely not the best book on the longlist, but it's my favourite so far: I had such an emotional reaction to the book, the characters, Nathaniel and Rose especially, I couldn't get them out of my head.

However, I have been very vocal about not wanting Warlight to win the Booker for the reason Gumble's just stated. Also, considering how much effort the judges have gone to to include debut authors and lesser known authors, I think it would be ironic if they picked Warlight to win; I would be surprised if it even made the shortlist.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments Fascinating reaction Maddie.


Alysson Oliveira | 82 comments I was thinking about it yesterday while reading it, and I am pretty sure that at some point, during one of the jury discussions, someone will bring this up, saying something like: "You know, he has already won a Booker prize this year, we shouldn't give him another."

The other members of the jury may pretend not hearing this comment, but I am pretty sure someone will say this. Or this may become a big issue for them.

That said, I do agree there are stronger contenders for the prize in the longlist, however much I'm enjoying Warlight.

I'm in two minds here about this novel being in the long ist. I think since he has alread won a prize this year, the "should give a chance" to someone else - considering there are many good novels (ever better than warlight) that were left out. On the other hand, it is not fair to "punish" this novel - which happens to be quite good, and I believe that even better than one that is in the longlist.


message 32: by Alysson (last edited Aug 03, 2018 11:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alysson Oliveira | 82 comments Oh, and I forgot to mention: I don't know why, but reading Warlight sometimes I have the feeling I am reading Ian McEwan (which is not a bad thing - at least for me).


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments Interesting comments Alysson.

Re the two awards issue, I have been reflecting in this and given the Golden Booker was decided by public vote, I think the judges would have already decided Warlight’s place in the longlist before the result of that vote was announced.

But the discussions you say will surely influence the choice of winner and possibly the shortlist.

I agree re Ian McEwan and said the same in my review. In my case the thing that struck me as the comparative is the amount of side research each writer does and then reproduces in detail in the novel; and which can for the reader sometimes enhance the novel and sometimes I think slightly overwhelm it. In this case I felt the research helped the themes of the book; I felt differently about English Patient or Saturday.


message 34: by Alysson (last edited Aug 03, 2018 12:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alysson Oliveira | 82 comments I agree with you, Gumble's Yard. When the Golden Booker was announced the longlist might have been decided or almost decided, so there wasn't much time for discussing this.

And about McEwan: I hadn't thought what really made me think of him, but I think you have a point, and, yes, the research they did ends up shaping some things in their novels.


Maddie (ashelfofonesown) | 113 comments Re the Golden MB and the decision of the longlist. That's an interesting point I had not thought about! Also, as discussed in this group before, the way the Golden Man Booker was judged leaves much to be desired and of all the books that were shortlisted for that prize, The English Patient was likely the best well-known so that might have helped in its winning.


Jonathan Pool I liked both The English Patient and Warlight for very different reasons. I personally think the former is the more original book, and a Booker classic. Warlight is very good, without being a potential winner, in my opinion. That may be because this year’s longlist, in my mind, is stronger.
I don’t believe for a minute that previously success either precludes or excludes the listing selections or chances of follow on success- as is evinced by those established writers who didn’t make this year’s longlist.


message 37: by Abby (new) - rated it 3 stars

Abby | 6 comments Did anyone else find it was an author mistake, during the Italian interrogation of Felon, that there was a pun involving the English word “mole” that wouldn’t work in Italian? This jarred me.


message 38: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3101 comments Mod
I have just realised I forgot to post an update after finishing this on Friday night. I enjoyed it and found most of it very readable, but I didn't quite feel it was as good as I had been led to believe. I would have liked Nathaniel to explain how he was able to tell his mother (and the implausibly named Marsh Felon, and "Agnes")'s stories in such vivid detail - these sections seemed to have an omniscient narrator. And one minor error I spotted "the new Labour party" was not that new by 1945, though it was the first Labour government with an overall majority.

My review


message 39: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments I also wonder about the omniscient narrator. I wonder if he was imagining them.


message 40: by Ctb (new) - added it

Ctb | 197 comments I'm avoiding reading comments here, reviews, etc. about this book, including the summary on its front flap. I don't want to know the nature and space of this misty eddy until each proper time.

But I laughed at the felicitous analogy of Henry James' prose (in The Golden Bowl) to the speech of a drunk: "The manner of the paragraphs, as the sentences strolled a maze-like path toward evaporation, was, to the two of us, similar to the Moth's when he was being drunkenly magisterial. It was as if language had been separated from his body in a courteous way." I will now always see James at a desk, language thanking him for his hospitality, but wishing now to make its own splintered trek across the pages in front of him.

If this novel has more connections to The Golden Bowl, I will miss them, as I haven't read it. Perhaps this has an atmospheric, impressionistic similar to James's style rather than a thematic similarity to TGB. Maybe neither. Let's see...


message 41: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen | 110 comments Alysson wrote: "Oh, and I forgot to mention: I don't know why, but reading Warlight sometimes I have the feeling I am reading Ian McEwan (which is not a bad thing - at least for me)."

So funny to read this comment Alysson, after just today telling someone that I preferred the film version of the last Ondaatje book I read - only to realize later Atonement was not written by Ondaatje!


message 42: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen | 110 comments I finished this today. I thought it was wonderful, so smooth and graceful in its telling - while providing enough tension and steady character development to keep me hooked to the end. I think he is first class as a writer, this was possibly as good as my favourite of his - In the Skin of a Lion. The English Patient was not my favourite.

I'm seeing him speak next week and look forward to learning more about why he wrote this story.


Alysson Oliveira | 82 comments Jen, that is funny. Thinking now, it just occurs to me that sometimes these two writers can be very simmilar.

By the way, I finished Warlight yesterday, and I agree with you. It is very beautiful! Please, tell us what he says about this novel in the event you are going to.


message 44: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3101 comments Mod
This book shares some of the characteristics of Ondaatje's last book The Cat's Table, which was about a younger boy but had a similar mixture of history, adventure story and reinterpretation of the past.


message 45: by Ctb (new) - added it

Ctb | 197 comments This novel began with promise; I love an intriguing opening sentence, but the last 30% became tedious. Too much warlight isn't good for growth. I doubt I'll remember this next year.

I agree with several points by Dwight Garner in his NYT review.

The Marsh Felon section can't be told by an omniscient narrator because Rose is referred to as "my mother".


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 521 comments My review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....

I liked the book a lot. I understand the criticism about it making the long list and I agree that some better books were left off, e.g., The Shepherd's Hut. But the book itself is not an unworthy inclusion on the list.

I agree with Grumble Yard that it deals with unclear boundaries and I think him for that observation.


message 47: by Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer (last edited Aug 11, 2018 01:15PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5246 comments My pleasure Linda although it's Gumble's Yard, based also on Bottersnikes And Gumbles.

I think there are others that do a little more Grumble-ing than me.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 521 comments Gumble's Yard, my apologies! Although, I do like Grumble Yard - makes me think of cows loose in a gravel yard.


message 49: by Ctb (new) - added it

Ctb | 197 comments After a few days this book has distilled to

Life is never-ending guerrilla warfare, on the ground, in the villages, in our extended families and homes, between nations and ethnicities, all of us moles, below the light of day or man, and each of us a spy, engaged in espionage. We disguise ourselves, become transparently opaque, to uncover other's motives, discern who/what is safe or dangerous, to read the dossier of other people and their histories, always looking for our reflection in the other person, cautious about what they have perceived of us. Every entity is entangled in centuries-long misunderstandings and grudges that cannot be fully understood, redressed, or ended.


message 50: by Robert (last edited Aug 30, 2018 12:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Robert | 1971 comments I'm a 100 pages in the book and I am loving the writing - Crisp, sharp, economic - like French praline.

The plot, however, feels like it was stitched together and does not flow as well. At times it reminds me of Michael Frayn's Spies with a sexual edge and extra greyhounds.

Now as this is someone who is recalling the past I am guessing the stitchy feel of the plot is deliberate.

Nonetheless I am getting a certain pleasure out of reading Warlight


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