…What? – a review of Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

In recent years of reviewing and reading historical fiction books I’ve found that a writing style can make or break a book. It can make me fall in love with it like the Book Thief or I will end up hating how confusing it made the story like with Catch 22.

Warlight’s writing style just made me confused.

14-year-old Nathaniel’s parents have left him and his older sister in the care of a man they named the Moth in the wake of World War II. During this time where Nathaniel comes of age and begins to define himself, he learns that his upbringing and what he envisioned of his family was built upon lies.

The truth is… I don’t know. You can already guess that the writing style contributed to it, but let’s cover a little bit more first.

This novel was framed to be a solid narrative and to have a conclusion, and while I was given the pieces to put the puzzle together I was unable to solve it. And with this being a semi-mystery, you’d at least expect that answer to be spat in your face. I more so know what happened in Nathaniel’s mother’s past, but I still don’t know who she is or the conclusions made after those events in her past were revealed. I didn’t even sound like Nathaniel himself, who was studying his mother’s history, was happy with the outcome or got the full picture. I got a better outcome from this with Catch-22, one of my most hated books of all time, because of how unreadable it was and how often I didn’t know what was going on. And yet, it was easier to follow than Warlight.

And yet this book I don’t hate as much as Catch-22. The writing style and prose was very beautiful and often individual chapters felt very mesmerising to read. Single scenes or chapters were mesmerizing and the inner thoughts and observations of Nathaniel were great to explore in the moment. The moments he spent in his affair were among my favourites and the moments where the story felt the most relatable. This is the one redeeming quality of this novel.

I simply cannot express my confusion more! It was more than the plot that made me think this. Were any of the characters visually described in any way? No. Did the plot match the blurb and what I expected from the novel? No. Was the direction the story was going in clear at any point? No. I am convinced the author was literally piecing together random bits of poetic prose and moments into some form of an underdeveloped narrative barely worthy of the title. I for the life of me do not know what was going on in this whole novel. The writing style mase it a great hassle to read behind flowery prose.

And again, its nonlinear nature wasn’t the problem! Why the hell don’t nonlinear narratives state more clearly the order that everything is going in, clear definitions of whether the chapter is taking place in the past or the future? In or out of the narrative? So far half the books I have read with a non-linear narrative are near impossible to read.

And now I ask is that too much to ask for?

Warlight gets a score of 2/5. Did this book make it onto Sparknotes for me to get a grasp of? I’m not gonna read them anyway. Just curious.

Yours in writing


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