MOON TIGER by Penelope Lively


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Winner of the 1987 Booker Prize in England, this novel has at its center historian and journalist Claudia Hampton, a woman who lies in a hospital bed dying of old age but who uses the immobility to stratify, like an outcropping, all the layers of her life. In many of her fine works, Lively has written about history, its jokes and permutations, with the consistent knack of keeping personal scale while destiny goes blithely on--and Claudia is a good vehicle for this. Her incestuous relationship with brilliant brother Gordon, her marriage to shallow businessman Jasper, the mothering of her daughter (ambivalent at best), the great central affair of her life (with a British tank commander in North Africa during WW II)--they all illustrate the relative insignificance yet enormous pleasure of living consciously within time. Yet this isn't Lively's best work. Though rich and varied, it's a little too much the tone poem, too much the elegiac, rueful, amused retrospective. Claudia in the hospital is a flashback machine (multiplied by small additional flashbacks that narrate an incident in the voices and heads of its participants). A certain innocence born of forward-facing narrative (what'll happen next?) is thus lost to the reader; the book is frozen motionless by the snows of yesteryear. Textured and artful, but a touch too portentous also.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
ISBN: 0802135331
Publisher: Grove