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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.

📚🎧

June Reading Challenge from theUnreadShelf

I love the idea of a TBR Shelf reading challenge, and now that I’m listening to a lot of audiobooks and able to get to more of the books I’ve been dreaming of reading, I might actually be able to take part in something like this.

That’s the easy part. Now I have to decide what to read for it. I’m not really into travel writing though, so finding something in my TBR pile that is a “place you’d love to visit or a travel-themed story” isn’t that easy. When I first went into the Libby app to search travel nonfiction audiobooks the first thing that popped up was Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, proving even algorithms have a sense of humor. But I just read that a few weeks ago, so I can’t claim it for this challenge.

But now I don’t know, I’ve narrowed it down to a few, but I’m leaning towards John Banville’s “Time Pieces”, a memoir of his life in Dublin. I’ve been interested in reading Banville’s fiction, particularly his Benjamin Black series, so it jumped out at me. This book wasn’t on my TBR, but the author was, so that counts. Right?

Runners up include “The Lost City of Z” and “Murder on the Orient Express”, both very much travel and travel themed books I’ve been meaning to read, even if they are both very morbid stories. Originally I’d thought I could read “The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City” and travel to the Pan American Exposition of 1901 but that seemed to be playing a little loose with the rules. But it’s already on my loan shelf, so once I finish “Catch 22” it’s over to Dublin with John Banville for a few hours before heading into the spectacle and tragedy of 1901 in the Queen City.

Are you doing the UnreadShelf’s TBR Challenge, or any other reading challenge? What travel-themed books have you read or wanted to read?

Follow me on Goodreads to see if I actually read any of these books, and check out what else I’ve read.

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