In our second conversation, Michael Ondaatje discusses his writerly preoccupation with discovery—how his characters bloom and become more complex. In Warlight, two children come to understand that what they learned during the war is nothing like the truth they face after the war: their father is missing and their mother is not the woman they thought she was. The novel’s first part is a narrative extravaganza with showpiece sentences, the second part is a stunned character piecing his reality together. In this novel, no matter what is happening, something else is happening too. It alters the rules about how big a novel’s canvas can be; it gives the feeling of completeness without telling all the secrets. A book of entertainment that involves sorrow, incomprehension, and unknowability, the essence is for the reader to be in a state of only partially resolved confusion—never solving the questions that come after the final pages.
Photos by Christopher Ho.