The 15 Best Books to Take to the Beach This June
If writers are cartographers of the heart, Michael Ondaatje's oeuvre could fill an atlas. In The English Patient, he mapped intimate dramas within larger historical conflicts, as he did in his subsequent novel, Anil's Ghost. That's also true of Warlight, Ondaatje's suspense-rich, beautifully crafted seventh novel. Set in Europe just after World War II, the book traces one ruptured family's odyssey through a maze of betrayal and intrigue that is a microcosm of the events unfolding throughout the region.
When Nathaniel and Rachel's parents abruptly abandon England for Singapore, they leave the young teenagers behind in the care of a colleague, Walter, a shady character the children dub "the Moth": "a humble man, large but moth-like in his shy movements." The Moth and his band of eccentrics and petty criminals, such as the Darter, an ex-boxer turned greyhound smuggler, draw the siblings into a life of risqué dinner parties, midnight canal-barge excursions, and first sex. Just as the brother and sister begin to settle into their freewheeling new reality, any semblance of security they've come to feel is shattered when the Moth is murdered in front of them, and their mother, Rose, reappears as if by magic. It turns out she's been hovering around them all along, a spy in hiding. The novel's second act reconstructs Rose's story, as Nathaniel, now an adult working as an archivist, attempts to piece together what led her to live in the shadows.
Ondaatje evokes a kaleidoscope of ideas and moods with exquisite lyricism, flowing back and forth in time, taking unresolved youthful yearnings and, with the help of his scarred protagonists, putting them at last to rest. Warlight is an intricate ballet of longing and deception, and a singular ode to the mother-child bond.