Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Moon Tiger — Penelope Lively — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on September 15, 2008

With me the dynamics that surround a reading experience vary from book to book. With some books the conditions are so unbelievably favourable that I get to read them in a few sittings and with others the number of interruptions are as many as the number of pages they contain. Yet some of my best reads have been the most interrupted ones. I think, besides the genuinely inherent quality of the book, the overpowering desire to steal a few moments from time and explore a book seem to add to the pleasure of reading. Penelope Lively‘s “Moon Tiger” has been one such book that I managed to read in very interrupting conditions

To the seemingly silly question whether or not it is interesting to live through turbulent periods of history – a sensible answer would be a non committal – “It depends” . Yes, it depends on who you are and where you are placed in the situation. If your job is to be an obsever and chronicler of the time passing by, it may well be the most interesting time to live in. But on the contrary, if one were to be a mere statistic it may not be an appealing prospect to be part of those times. More so if those turbulent times are predominantly centered around wars

Claudia Hampton is an ex-war correspondent, currently a popular historian on her deathbed in a London hospital recollecting her past and along with it some glimpses of the history of the 20th century that she had the good fortune to observe. Set in both England and in Egypt, the entire book is structured as a series of flashbacks of her childhood, education, adolescence, an intellectually competitive and physically incestuous relationship with her brother Gordon, a condescending relationship with her sister in law Sylvia, life as a reporter in war torn Egypt, her affair with Tom Southern – an army captain and the stillborn child of their union, relocation to London, marriage to Jasper — who is part Russian in his ancestry, their child Lisa, rise to fame as a popular historian and adoption of a Hungarian orphan Laszlo — a product of the Russian invasion of Hungary. In sum “Moon Tiger” is a slice of history which is deeply intertwined with Claudia’s life and portrayed as a memory recall

Undoubtedly “Moon Tiger” has been a wonderful read and viewed through traditional aspects of evaluating fictional output like language, detail, portrayal of a milieu, characterisation, plot, narrative – it has been been first rate. Yet what I think have been the unique aspects of this book are a couple of sub themes that Ms. Lively deals throughout the book. The first sub theme is that of wars — how twentieth century has been a witness to some of the most horrifying wars that mankind has seen and yet mans’ incredible chicanery to justify them through the subversion of language, logic, motives and memory is brilliantly depicted. The second sub theme has been the desire of people to view history as a spectacle and in the process miss the real direction of where it has been leading to and the approach to understanding it. In physical terms “Moon Tiger” is a green mosquito coil that burns slowly, gradually and collapsing into itself.  May be a hidden symbolism of the relentless but definitive movement of history and mans own predicament of repeating it by ignoring it

The singular failure of this book in my view is the author’s inability to bring out the visceral feel for what a real battlefront looks like. I have read Erich Maria Remarque‘s “All Quiet on the Western Front” and in comparison “Moon Tiger” pales in its vitality to depict the horrifying suffering and conditions of the dramatis personae in a war despite the multiple pages dedicated to describing the battlefront. There are instances of brilliant descriptions especially the notes in Capt Tom’s dairies but they are ocassional and not of a consistent elevated quality.  If one were to ignore this aspect, “Moon Tiger” is a fine book worth reading

In a sense Penelope Lively has been a new introduction to the limited repertory of modern English writers that I know of. “MoonTiger” has definitely sharpened my appetite to explore the literary output of this gifted, controlled and mature writer. It does not surprise me that this book has won Booker in 1987

One Response to “Moon Tiger — Penelope Lively — A review”

  1. […] Mangala palliv: Undoubtedly “Moon Tiger” has been a wonderful read and viewed through traditional aspects of evaluating fictional output like language, detail, portrayal of a milieu, characterisation, plot, narrative – it has been been first rate. […]

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