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  1. Warlight is a story of espionage and intrigue, set in London in two distinct time spaces: the 1940s and 1959. In the 1940s narrative, Nathaniel, his sister Rachel and their parents have survived the war. Surviving the peace will not be so easy. First Nathaniel’s father leaves to work in Asia, and then his mother disappears. He and Rachel are brought up in the family home by a revolving cast of strange men who seem to drift around the edges of the criminal underworld. There are shady dealings with greyhounds and furtive nocturnal sailings up and down the Thames in a mussel barge. Nathaniel is at the transition from boy to man; he works in kitchens, sows wild oats and charms the various oddballs who hang around with his guardians. Until, one evening, this strange world collapses in on itself. Moving to the 1959 section, Nathaniel is older and works for one of the government security agencies. This gives him an opportunity to investigate some of the mysterious events of the 1940s. In particular, we discover what happened to Nathaniel’s mother and her relationship with the curiously named Marsh Felon, the son of a thatcher who had worked on her roof many years previously. For the first half, the reader is happy to go along with it all to see where it leads. Then, early in the second half, something goes awry. The point of view moves away from Nathaniel and somehow everything seems less immediate, less convincing. Nathaniel’s mother behaves inexplicably. Even when the explanation is attempted, it is inexplicable. As each character is explained in turn, the fundamental driving direction weakens more and more. It comes as no great surprise to the reader to discover that they everyone is a spook, but it is never clear how or why any of them became involved in espionage in the first place – or what they did while working as spies. The evocation of an atmosphere is well done if somewhat clichéd. I mean, was the whole of the 1940s foggy? Were the streets really full of spivs that would embarrass Private Walker from Dad’s Army? Did spies really behave quite so – er – mysteriously? The good outweighs the bad in Warlight. The first half and more is really compelling. The frustration is that the switch from intriguing to boring is quite sudden and quite irreversible. By the very end, with a greyhound nuzzling Nathaniel’s hand, there is an overwhelming sense that section after section has been added to get the wordcount up, but without any sense of whether it was actually adding to the story – which in a story-led novel is a problem. Three and a half stars rounded down. ***00
  2. Michael Ondaatje - Anil's Ghost - 2000 I love books about history and/or novels from other parts of this world. Anil's Ghost combines the two. The language in this book is wonderful, I could read on like this for ages. Even though the story is not "nice" (given the subject), I really enjoyed reading it, getting to know the characters and finding out more about the history of this country, something not as widely known in this part of the world as some others. I guess, Sri Lanka doesn't look important enough. (thread first started 22.06.06)
  3. This is a novel in 3 chapters which could almost be read as 3 separate stories. In the first part, we learn the story of Anna and Claire (brought up as sisters, but not related by blood) and Coop, adopted by their father when his family is murdered. A life-changing event splits the family apart and the rest of part one follows each of the three individuals: Anna becomes an academic who goes to France to research an author, Lucien Segura; Coop becomes a professional gambler and Claire becomes an investigator for the public defence office. The initial story is heart-wrenching and the individual stories are by turns, engaging, beautifully told and nostaligic. Parts 2 and 3 are set in France and tell the story of Lucien Segura and his link to Anna through a man she meets during her research. When I first started these parts, I thought my initial enjoyment would be marred as I couldn't see the point of the link. However, again, they are told beautifully and drew me on: I was hooked. I loved this book. It is the sort of story I have always loved - universal experiences told through the prism of individual lives. A definite keeper for me. I have been at best luke warm about my last two reads, so this felt like a real joy and a privilege. Zebra
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