Category Reading

Book 1

Warlight, Michael Ondaatje, 2018

Publisher, Vintage

Category: Unputdownable.

An adult fairy tale set in the tenebrous light of a wartime-scarred London. Ondaatje is very good at writing about adolescent uncertainties, as he showed in “The Cat’s Table.” In “Warlight,” the darkness and light of the warring outer world are mirrored in Nathaniel’s fourteen-year-old uncertainties as to what is going on when his parents abandon his sister and him to the guardian villains of the fairy tale. A dozen years on, in the 1950s, Nathaniel unravels those wartime years, their aftermath and consequences, from which he pieces together a narrative of the possible truth. 

The novel is beautifully structured, rather like a peeled onion of clues and revelations. The characters and caricatures who roam the crepuscular canals and alleyways of the mind are worthy of Dickens at his best and the narrative voice is sustained across the twin revelations of both the story’s resolution and the protagonist’s arriving at adulthood. 

Overall Comment: A magnificent read. I hope I’ve done it justice.

Reviewer: Morag Charlwood

Book 2

The Spire, William Golding, 1964

Publisher, Faber and Faber

Category: A Stunning Read.

The tragic sight of the recent blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral and the awe-striking moment as the world watched and wept at the spire collapsing drew me back to William Golding’s magnificent, sorrowful tale of obsession and lust. 

For the many of us who have gazed at the wonders of the construction of the great mediaeval cathedrals, raised with none of the tools of modern technology, this is a fascinating novel. 

Dean Jocelin has a vision, that God has inspired him to erect a great spire on his cathedral. The head mason advises that the lack of foundations and the dampness of the ground on which the cathedral sits will render the project a failure. The symbolism is palpable. Dean Jocelin is, inevitably, determined to proceed and the spire rises octagon by octagon. 

Overall comment: Beautifully written and highly compassionate. 

Furthermore:  a good excuse to revisit the beauteous Salisbury Cathedral; a strong influence on Golding’s writing of the novel. 

Reviewer: Morag Charlwood

Book 3 

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, Andrew Miller, 2018

Publisher, Sceptre 

Category: Staggeringly good.

A poetic meditation on peace and redemption,  full of luminous writing, magical story-telling and sensational plotting. 

The story opens in 1809, shortly after the Spanish Campaign in the Peninsular War. Retreating British troops have been party to an atrocity in a small mountain village as the army retreated from Napoleon’s forces. A tribunal is held. A scapegoat is needed. Lacroix will bear this cross. The pursuit of this main character drives the ensuing narrative and the novel’s philosophical disquisition on guilt and innocence, retribution and repentance. 

Stylistically beautiful and full of human truths, this novel could be talking about any time and any place where humankind has committed the apparently unforgivable. 

Overall Comment: Powerful story-telling.

Reviewer: Morag Charlwood

Book 4

Spring, Ali Smith, 2019 

Publisher, Hamish Hamilton

Category: Poetic, Political, Polemical

“Spring” is part riff on, part rant against the contemporary turmoil of the Ship of State; the dishonesty of the times; the erecting of a wall of wilful invisibility of discrimination and the mechanisms by which we contrive to not know about such things as Immigrant Detention Centres and what goes on behind closed doors. 

The counterpoint to this is a kind of ‘Underground Railway’ of community values and living resistance to the cruelties of the CCTV society embodied in the twelve-year-old Florence, liberator of both people and possibilities. Florence is both figment of the reader’s imagination and a central personification of the plot’s mechanism in which destinies collide and an ending, of sorts, is reached.

Overall comment: Not the easiest book to review, but one of the best and most humane fictional renderings of our current and ongoing societal uncertainties that I’ve read. 

Reviewer: Morag Charlwood

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