Monday, October 02, 2006

Book review - Moon Tiger

When I was a child, I read a few of Penelope Lively’s books for children: The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, The Voyage of QV66, A Stitch in Time, and others. I’d never read any of her adult novels or other works until G recommended them to me, so I picked up Moon Tiger last weekend, and finished reading it yesterday.

Moon Tiger won the Booker Prize in 1987, and I think it is the first and only Booker Prize-winning novel I’ve ever read. It is a beautifully-written book, spanning the life led by fictitious writer-historian Claudia Hampton, told in non-chronological flashbacks, woven together with her plans for new book, a history of the world. Most of the book is told from Claudia’s viewpoint, but certain episodes are seen by several people: her brother, Gordon; Gordon’s wife, Sylvia; Claudia’s lover, Jasper; their daughter, Lisa; and a Hungarian art student, Laszlo. Each point of view is distinct and consistent, but the variation is not distracting.

The main part of the book tells of Claudia’s time in Cairo, where she was a war correspondent. This is set at a time when the author was a child, and memories of Cairo and Egypt are clear and evocative. Claudia falls in love with a British tank commander, Tom Southern, and is later devastated by his death. Although this story line only begins about half-way through the book, one can clearly see that it has changed Claudia, though she might not consciously admit it. She’s an entertaining heroine: spiky, arrogant, argumentative, intelligent, opinionated, unconventional, unable to show much affection to her daughter; yet you warm to her, wishing that you had known her.

Yet the novel is more than just Claudia’s story, or of any of the other characters, of whose lives one gets only brief but tantalising glimpses. Lively talks about the English language, the conquest of Mexico, the history of Egypt, war, love, loss and the difficulties of really knowing any single person.

It isn’t a long book, brief by the standards of most novels now written, but almost every page is necessary. Not a word is wasted. Thoroughly recommended.



At Sun Oct 15, 04:54:00 pm, Blogger First Nations said...

because you recommended this, i will look for it and read it. but only because you recommended it. (robots, lasers and spaceships being my usual idea of a good time. sad, sad sad.)

utterly, utterly off topic; what do you think of sting releasing a collection of John Dowlings music???


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