WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje

Oh, how I loved this. It wouldn't really matter what the story line was as the writing is so exquisite, expressive and wonderful. 'The English Patient' is one of my all time favourites, expectations are always nervously high for subsequent novels, but you can rest easy, as seen by its long-list nomination for this year's Man Booker Prize. 

The title refers to the half light, the dimness, twilight, uncertain and slightly wild place that London was during the war years, and after. Lives lost, people displaced, lives turned upside down. In 1945 Nathaniel is 14 years old and his sister Rachel is 16. They live with their parents in a house in a street in London. One day the parents announce that they are going away to live in Singapore for a period of time for the father's work. The two children would be left in the care of a guardian. The shock and disbelief never really goes away for either Rachel and Nathaniel, this desertion at the core of their psyche for at least the duration of the novel, and probably beyond. The desertion turns into a form of betrayal when the two discover that their mother never actually left, but where she did go remains a mystery. 

Their guardian, a man they call The Moth, on other hand, is a most interesting character, as are the various other strange assortment of people who become regular visitors in the family home. The Darter, Marsh Felon, Olive Lawrence - who are these people, what do they have to do with the absent parents? Nathaniel forms a particularly strong attachment to The Darter, accompanying him on various treks around London in the dead of night, as deliveries are made, quiet conversations are held. Although parentless, Nathaniel and Rachel find themselves not really parentless after all. 

The descriptions of London at this time are outstanding, as is the view of a young boy at the strange life he is finding himself in. He is half adult/half child, the writing capturing perfectly this half formed world that teenagers live in.

The years pass, the children become adults, the secrets of these years are discovered. Which I will not reveal! Suffice to say that not only is the story unusual, wonderful and in its own way satisfying, it is the writing, the characters, the how and why of things that happen that is quite simply divine. The author is a genius of the English language. I will be buying my own copy, and it will join 'The English Patient' on my shelf. 

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