Seaside Book Club – June Meeting

by Deborah Rogers – 

In Warlight, Michael Ondaatje weaves a tale filled with eccentric characters, ambiguous incidents and the intrigue of espionage. It’s a fictional memoir of a young man looking back at his strange upbringing through the lens of newly discovered information. Through Nathaniel’s reminiscences, and attempts to understand his parents and childhood, Ondaatje explores the interesting time between war and peace, and the shadow cast by the Second World War.

Nathaniel and his sister are teenagers in post-war London when they are left in the care of an enigmatic man, who they nickname The Moth. Their parents’ whereabouts is a puzzle, and the world their guardian lives in is entirely unlike any they’ve experienced before. Nathaniel does his growing up with the acquaintances of The Moth, spending nights on the Thames helping with illicit schemes; living his life in a strange world where he’s being watched over, but he never really understands by who, and for what reason.

The novel gave us plenty to discuss at our meeting, including the strange family dynamics and different reaction between the siblings to their parents’ abandonment. We pondered the character of Nathaniel’s mother and the decision she made to leave her children without telling them what was happening. We commented on the dreamlike descriptions of Nathaniel’s escapades and how Ondaatje brought you along on those journeys with him, skillfully drawing you into the mystery of his life. The second half of the novel, where an older Nathaniel starts to unravel some of the details of his mother’s past, brought new questions about the veracity of memory and the danger, and excitement, of intelligence work.

The ambiguity and long, detailed descriptions were not to everyone’s taste. Some felt the narrative meandered, and the storylines went unresolved. There’s certainly lots of space in this book for the reader to question and reflect. Many of the vignettes, so vividly described, will stay with us. Our group included the perspective of several who had grown up in the same period, and we talked about the impact war had on that generation, with parents who had been damaged, or had their attention entirely diverted away from homelife, by war.

For our July meeting we will be discussing Cahokia Jazz by Francis Spufford – contact the Sidney/North Saanich Library to add your name to the wait list for a Book Club Set copy. Join us on Tuesday July 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the library; we’ll hold our meeting outside if the weather is good! To receive the Book Club newsletter please sign up:

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