What lengths would one go for love…or in war? Cataclysmic outside events thrust unlikely people together…torn from their privacy to create new intamicies…in secret…but in service for something larger…a delicate, romantic spy game that could determine the fates of strangers in strange lands just as much as it could the fate of the ones you most love.
In his masterpiece The English Patient, Canada’s titan of literary fiction, Michael Ondaatje described a novel as a “mirror walking down the road.” In his latest novel, Warlight, which mirrors many of the themes of his best, he describes a memoir as “the lost inheritance”. Warlight is a novel written as if it was a memoir, and the light it casts on the shadowy lives of those left picking up the pieces in the aftermath of World War II will leave one shaken as equally by Ondaatje’s craft as by the fates of the characters. It would make a cracker jack film or miniseries, you know, if someone skillful enough could dissect it, reassemble it, and focus the whole thing on the shocking soap opera-like revelation at the end…the twist of fate…the sad realization of what the consequences of one’s actions and youthful indiscretions could be. Continue reading →
The Proctor Boys are a strange lot – three grizzled old men who have spent their entire lives in stifling isolation on a dairy farm in Upstate New York. When the eldest, Vernon, winds up dead one morning in the bed all three shared, the youngest, Creed, gets swept up into accusation while the emotionally crippled simpleton (and middle brother), Audie, barely grasps the gravity of the situation.
Jon Clinch’s second novel, Kings of the Earth, was inspired by actual events. Clearly fashioning himself a 21st century William Faulkner, Clinch spans his book across generations and voices. Each chapter is titled by a year and a character’s name – with POV’s shifting from 1st person to 2nd person to 3rd person, but never omniscient – eerily reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury. Those not familiar with the style may find it a challenge, while fans of Faulkner will probably favor it as a nice homage, but it pales in comparison to the master. This isn’t to say Clinch hasn’t achieved something memorable nearing mythic stature here. Continue reading →
Michael Ondaatje’s “Divisadero” tells the tale of Anna, her adopted sister Claire, and their father’s farmhand Coop, growing up in the poetic splendor of their California homestead. After scandal and tragedy separate the three, Anna eventually ends up in France years later researching the life story of a French novelist and poet, Lucien Segura, who found fame, fortune, and heartbreak in the years surrounding WWI.
Ondaatje (best known for penning “The English Patient”) has a fluid and emotional writing style that is as wondrous and evocative as it is frustrating. The casual reader might find themselves lost or distracted by dialog without quotation marks, arbitrary flashbacks, shifting POV’s, and stories within stories that fold in on themselves and only relate to other characters through mere coincidence. Ondaatje creates a vivid sense of place with both Californian wine country and rural France, but often times a reader might forget where they are and be left wondering what happened to a certain character who had been a focus for so long.
“Divisadero” sometimes reads like a collection of short stories where a few of the characters or settings overlap. There’s no central plot, and the prose meanders to no solid conclusion. Ondaatje populates the novel with thematic repetition (fathers uncovering secrets of their grown daughters, men wishing they were carefree boys again, love triangles) and character foils that make it an endlessly interesting read for those with the patience for his literary style. The book, though at times maddening, is full of small moments, captured with great clarity of vision, that add up to something ponderous that is beyond the scope of any words.