Saturday, May 22, 2010

Matthew's Review - Moon Tiger - 1987

The best part about the Booker Prize challenge is reading authors or books I would have never thought to read, and then being pleasantly surprised. In regards to my progress, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively is probably the best example of this experience.

In her seventies, and lying on her death bed, Claudia reminisces and wants to write a history of the world. An auto-didactic historian by trade, Claudia understands the futility of pinning down any one event, or chronology of events, in an objective and absolute manner. Rather, Claudia sees history as a kaleidoscope, ever changing and moving, refractive and reflective.

In the first chapter, Claudia sets out all the themes and important memories, like an overture to a symphony. From there, the structure of the book is chaotic and modernist, seemingly moving from one memory to another without any direction. However, this is not the case.

We're treated to past memories of her and her brother's childhood, their all-too intimate relationship, his marriage to a boring woman, her on-and-off partnership with a cold career man, her child and her inability to connect emotionally with the child.

This all comes to a head, thematically speaking, to the middle section of the book, in which Claudia is a war correspondent in Cairo during Rommel's push. She meets Tom Southern, a dashing soldier, whom she falls in love with desperately.

Once we realize the full extent of this affair, everything that we've read already takes on a different light, and what comes after, as well.

Lively's prose is strong and she makes Claudia's voice very strong and memorable. However, that's not what makes this novel so good. It's Lively's post-modern touch that elevates Moon Tiger.

Some memories are presented from different perspectives, such as an important episode in which Claudia and her brother are searching for fossils in the rocks. First from Claudia the child, and then from her brother as a child. This enforces the theme of history's relativity, and the kaleidoscope.

Fortunately, the trickery never seems like showing off, or indulgent. It is consistently in service of the story, and of Claudia's personal history.

This is a masterful novel, and one of the best examples of post-modernism done correctly. The reader never feels left out of the fun, and the story's emotional core is not manipulative. Lively's control over time and pacing is unbelievable. Moon Tiger seems to me like one of the best of the Bookers. It's intelligent, witty, deeply thematic, and one could spend ages between its covers. Highly recommended.


  1. I loved this book, too. I hadn't expected a relatively short book to be so rich. Great review!

  2. Wonderful! I think this is next in my Booker pile. Can't wait :-)

  3. Thanks for this, sounds interesting. I read Penelope Lively's children novels and loved them and read The Photograph some time ago.
    excellent review

  4. lovely review there...pretty detailed...i am trying to finish all the Bookers too. I think goign buy the list is a good way to ensure that one does not waste her time reading junk.

    i attempted a review of the same book here

    would love to have your feedback on it.