25 January, 2021

Boyhood In An Unsettled Past

Wartime London, broken, layered timeline and characterisation, and a boy’s opening eyes give Ondaatje’s new novel an aura of mystery and thrill

Photograph by Getty Images
Boyhood In An Unsettled Past

You do not approach a new Mic­hael Ondaatje novel lightly. You tread with care, mindful of his extraordinary achievements, his poetic substance, his slow-winded, softly insidious prose that insinuates itself as it unfolds layers of time, of memory, of recollection and re-comprehension.

It is now more than six years since his last novel. He admits he writes the old-fashioned way, with pen and ink, and revises obsessively. He has published about a dozen collections of poetry, outnumbering his seven novels. Each of his novels is a considered work of fiction, derived from fractured rem­embrance, explorations and poetic divinations, interwoven and carefully matured in the oaken cask of his consciousness.

His latest novel Warlight is thus to be treated with respect and savoured with thoughtful consideration. As Ondaatje has said elsewhere, “The first sentence of every novel should be: ‘Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.’ Meander if you want to get to town.”

The first sentence of...



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