If The Cat’s Table (2011) was a slow and steady unravelling of a young boy’s memories, yarn taut and tidy, Warlight is a mass of moth-eaten fragments, remnants of a finely-crafted woollen garment pulled from a trunk. A thing of beauty, yes, but the devastation is the first thing you notice and it’s hard to see past it.
Some characters in Warlight are knowing and deliberate, but Nathaniel is restless and searching and, because readers experience the story through Nathaniel’s memories and musings, the story is imbued with a sense of something-like-wonder but with a simmering discomfort beneath.
When Nathaniel and his sister Rachel are young, their mother orchestrates an elaborate pantomime surrounding preparations she is making for a journey.
How she presents the situation to the children is one thing. How events transpire is quite another.
Even shortly after her departure, the children realise that what they have been told is at odds with what they discover to be true. They have evidence of the discrepancy; they do not have information.
Those details are tremendously important, because nestled amongst them are the contradictions which reveal the gap between what was to be believed and what is known to be true.
But those details don’t matter at all in another sense because all that really matters is her absence: her absence and what that means for two children who expected to have a mother with them and, then, must learn to live without a mother.