*Contains no spoilers
Right from the start I was hooked on this novel by the celebrated author Michael Ondaatje who wrote the classic The English Patient which won the Booker Prize in 1992 and was turned into an equally successful film.
His follow up, Anil’s Ghost failed to hit the mark, at least for me. However, this book Warlight is Ondaatje at his best. Ondaatje is gifted in writing in a nostalgic, unconventional and exciting way about WWII. This novel is set in 1945 in London . Teenagers Nathaniel, aged 14 and Rachel aged 16 are abandoned by their mother who disappears suddenly to go and “work for the foreign office”. The pair are put into the care of a casual lodger in their home whom they nickname The Moth and also his friend, an ex Pimlico boxer known only by his nickname The Darter. From initial distrust, the two teenagers come to form strange bonds with their new guardians.
Slowly Nathaniel and Rachel are entangled into a shadowy underworld of London, filled with sinewy, gregarious, hard-living good-time companions. The two kids very quickly learn about the ways of the adult world.
Told through the eyes of 14 year old Nathaniel, this is a brilliant and outstanding bildungsroman about growing up and learning about girls, women and sex, unfolding during the tumult and constant bombing threat of the Luftwaffe.
This is a multilayered and beautiful historical novel. Without giving too much away it’s exhilarating to read of Nathaniel’s youthful and secretive adventures. The second half of the book is Nathaniel looking back as a grown adult on the craziness of that time. These parts have a slower and less exciting pace, but are still important for understanding the first part of the book.
Overall, this book is a masterpiece in the same way as The English Patient was a total masterpiece. I would say the two novels are at the same level. I rate it 5*/5