Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reading Through the Fog of Ondaatje’s “Warlight”

Recently I shared a comic on Instagram about how sometimes hating a book becomes an absolute defining character trait—it’s irrational, I know, but it can’t be helped. I’d referred to Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” and the ‘Red Rising Saga‘ as that book/series that I just hate despite everyone else I know absolutely loving it.
In the comments Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” was mentioned as one of those books that’s overrated. I haven’t read it, although I saw the movie and recall being fairly disappointed, but the exchange reminded me of Ondaatje’s new book, “Warlight”.

Warlight Michael Ondaatje

“In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself–,” the publisher writes, “at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire.”

The only mysterious thing about this narrative is how anyone could actually describe it in this way.

I started writing down my impressions of the book about a quarter of the way through it and by that point the most interesting part of the novel had been the brief paragraph offering a history of the lost rivers of London. This was only because it reminded me I need to get caught up on Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London series.

‘Warlight’ is one of those meandering, kind of plotless, novel by anecdote—a fictional memoir that reminds me of John Banville’s “Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir”, in which there’s less linear journey of story and more loosely guided walk through the narrative grocery store; grabbing certain stories, memories, ideas, backtracking occasionally to pick up another item, another character or experience for a meal that you’re trying to prepare for without actually having the recipe to guide you.

There are so many great stories hinted at in this book, but none of them are sufficiently expanded upon. The opportunity for intriguing, absurd underworld adventures with fascinating, odd and war-damaged characters is completely wasted with only fleeting mentions of crimes and events. Everything is just out of reach, just beyond the reader’s grasp, as if you’re reading the book trapped in a fog with large portions of it obscured and hidden from you.

Maybe this was intentional, given the story I think is being told—as the reader you are the narrator, and his understanding of his post war life and the wartime actions of his mother specifically, and even her own personal history, are obscured—although for his and his sister’s protection.

But it feels more than that. It feel unfinished and poorly structured, with information inadequately doled out, the sharing of the synopsis-promised mysteries of postwar London unbalanced and lacking. It feels like such a wasted opportunity to create a unique but historically anchored world populated by odd characters existing within the dark fringes of a society that has been so broken by multiple wars it is unsure how to reintegrate it’s fractured, schizophrenic selves.

Instead I’m left needing it to just be over because I’m too far into it to walk away even though I just don’t care….

Follow me on Goodreads to see if I actually manage to finish this book, or to check out what else I’m reading.

📚🎧

Exploring Dark Matter

Ok, so “Dark Matter” is the first thing I’ve read from Blake Crouch—or the first exposure I’ve had to his work given the tv adaptations of his work too—so I’m not sure if he’s super pretentious and that comes through naturally in his writing, or if his characters are all so astoundingly in love with themselves and their own brilliance, and he’s just that good at capturing it.This is an interesting story, but it feels hampered by how little I care about the actual characters. At this point I’m barely a third of the way through it, and it feels like I already have an idea of what’s going to play out—so either I’m astoundingly brilliant or there are some twists coming.

It’s reminding me so far of “Predestination”, the movie based on Robert Heinlein’s short story ‘All You Zombies’, although that was focused on time travel and the interweaving manipulations of timelines rather than exploring multiverse theory.

While I really enjoyed “Predestination” I’ve never read its source material, and after hating reading Heinlein’s “Stranger In a Strange Land” I’m a little hesitant to check it out. So I wonder if this might be a similar situation; that I might enjoy adaptations of Crouch’s work—‘Wayward Pines‘, ‘Good Behavior’ for tv and eventually “Dark Matter” itself as a film—more than I like his writing itself.

Or maybe I’ll enjoy this more as it gets going—like I said, there are probably some twists coming….

Listening to “Long Way Down”

There’s such a rough poetry to this story, a rhythm that carries the shaking, emotionally charged and physically unsteady words that I’m not sure would have been as captivating had I not listened to the author read it himself.

It needs to be performed and witnessed to be experienced, and Reynolds acknowledges as much in the interview that follows the audiobook edition as he explains why he wrote it as he did.

There is a universe of all the unwritten backstory that populates the neighborhood surrounding this short novel, that surrounds the elevator Will rides as the ghosts of his life; his father, uncle, friends—one by one enter and tell their story, their stories, the stories that are all connected, linked together like chains around the living left behind that drag Will down.

These stories piece together the reality that their violence obscured, and Will begins to understand how the rules he has lived by, that his world is governed by serve only to keep them all locked in an unending cycle of ignorance and violence.

This brought to mind several things I’ve read recently, and quickly, for subject and style this should be read with:

📙Walter Dean Myers’ “Monster”

📕Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give”

📘Kwame Alexander’s “Swing”

📙Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X”

📕John Edgar Wideman’s “Brothers and Keepers”

📘James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk”

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