2009: 126. Moon Tiger

“‘I’m writing a history of the world,’ she says. And the hands of the nurse are arrested for a moment; she looks down at this old woman, this ill old woman.”

Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively

One of my reading resolutions for 2009 was to read five more Booker prize winners, and now that I’ve completed my Modern Library quota for the year, I figured I better start in. I based my choices on the first five books I could find 1) at my used bookstore and 2) at my local library, so this will be somewhat of a motley crew.  This novel is the 1987 prize winner, and I quite enjoyed it.*

It is the story of Claudia’s life (shades of The Old Wives’ Tale), starting with her in a nursing home, and then unfolding (in non chronological order) the bits and pieces of what happened to her, and how her past shaped her character and made her who she is today.  In addition, each chapter, which starts with her remembering something, then unfolds to flash back to that past - and often we get the memory from a number of different perspectives (her, her daughter, her lover, etc.).  It sounds a bit complicated, and as you know, I am very wary of narrative tricks in novels (as they so often cover up for not having anything real to say).  However, it absolutely works here.  It helps that despite the playing with form, Lively has a grasp on her plot, and writes clearly and crisply - she doesn’t use her literary tricks to make the whole novel a jumble you have to parse.  Instead, it works to layer her characters, so that you slowly understand Claudia and why is is the way she is.  At first she seems like this egocentric academic, who is a terrible mother and a handful (at best) and an uppity bitch (at worst), but by the end, her character has been revealed and her life explained so that we know her, and her choices, while not always admirable, are almost inevitable, given who she is and what she’s been through.  It is really a tour de force bit of writing.

      Which is not to say that it’s a perfect novel.  At least one plot point seemed unnecessary at best,** and Claudia is a bit of a stereotype in British literature (or bohemian academic gorgeous libertines were much thicker on the ground in 1940’s Britain than seems plausible).  But it’s a clever and also moving book, and certainly deserving of the Booker.

      Particularly for a book that I picked up based solely on its presence on a list that I have a documented love/hate relationship with!

**SPOILER AHEAD - why on earth was the consensual incest bit there, except to be shocking? Unlike the other parts, it didn’t seem to expand the character, and wasn’t handled in any real way.  Instead it seemed liked “oh my goodness aren’t we sophisticated and daring” and I thought cheapened the novel through sensationalism.

Date/Place Completed: November 2009; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Booker Prize, Book Resolutions

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017