Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marie's Review: Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively

Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively. This edition published 1989 by Harper Perennial. Paperback.

Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1987, Moon Tiger is the bedside confession and life story of Claudia Hampton, writer of popular histories now on her deathbed. She says she will write the history of the world so she tells her own story and that of her family- her brother Gordon and his wife, who knows Claudia to be the most important woman in her husband's life; her daughter Lisa, the doggedly average daughter of the larger-than-life Claudia; Lisa's father, distant and aristocratic; and her lover, Tom, who she meets in Egypt during World War 2 and loses almost as soon as she finds him.

First of all, Lively's writing is incredible. Her descriptions of characters and her eye for detail bring the most everyday situations to life. You know these people; you can feel Lisa's pain especially at growing up in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, a woman who doesn't want her daughter to call her mother because it's just too ordinary, and ordinary is what Claudia can never be. Although Tom is the lover of her life, the man for whom she pines to her dying breath, the real love of her life is her brother Gordon, the only relationship that lasts. 

The segments of the book taking place in Egypt are the most colorful; Lively makes you feel the heat, the crush of crowds, the empty and yet seductive power of the desert. It's also where Claudia experiences the only real love she ever feels and her passion for Tom bring the landscape alive. England, Europe and America feel duller, flat, because she has no emotional ties there- no connective tissue. Tom's journals, which she reads at the end of her life, have about them a quiet tenderness that ease her final days.

At heart Moon Tiger is a character study of a strong and difficult woman; Claudia is a wonderfully, vividly drawn character- as are all the characters in the book. She's not perfect, but the book is, in its way, a perfect, gentle, subtle portrait of an unusual woman and her unusual life. I relished every drop of Lively's beautiful writing and thoroughly enjoyed this fantastic, moving novel


  1. What a superb review! I loved this book too, I was surprised at how good it was.

  2. I really loved this book but more for its technical achievements. Lively pulls off a really complicated trick with structure and form with Moon Tiger. I liked the characters and the story, but I was more enthralled with Lively's sleight-of-hand