Moon Tiger

I am a big fan of Penelope Lively's children's books -- I read The Ghost of Thomas Kempe about twenty times, and later discovered The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, Astercote, The House in Norham Gardens (which has a Papua New Guinea connection, by the way), and A Stitch in Time. All her kids' books share a preoccupation (very appealing to me) with time, history, and the ripples of events reverberating back and forth down the centuries.

I didn't discover until relatively recently that Lively was also an adult author, and Moon Tiger won the Booker Prize in 1987. I hunted it down on Brotherhood Books, which came up trumps as it usually does.

As soon as I started reading Moon Tiger, I was transported back to 1987. It felt familiar at once from that era of novels by and about women that were self-consciously trying to break free from traditional narrative structures and tell women's stories in a different way-- authors like Margaret Atwood and AS Byatt. In Moon Tiger, brilliant, prickly Claudia Hampton lies dying, and reflects on chapters of her life -- not chronologically -- the book dips back and forth between her time as a war reporter in Egypt, her childhood, her late-life gay protegee, her daughter, her brother. Some sections are moving and surprising, others are less interesting. (Moon Tiger refers to a brand of mosquito coil, a spiral that burns itself out -- a lovely, clever title.)

I was a little disappointed in Moon Tiger, to be honest. We are constantly told how glittering and wonderful Claudia is, but the disjointed structure denies us a chance to really get to know her intimately (perhaps that was the point?) The war sections are great; the sections about her unreliable lover Jasper are, frankly, a bit tedious. Perhaps the greatest indictment is that it's taken me nearly two weeks to read this fairly slim novel! I just never quite got hooked in. Not sorry I read it, but unlike her children's books, I don't think I'll read it again.

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