Moon Tiger – Penelope Lively

My local library has several of Penelope Lively’s books. I was drawn to The Photograph in one of their quick choice stands and although I didn’t end up reading that one, Penelope Lively has been on my radar since. Moon Tiger won her the Booker Prize in 1987 and it was this combined with the setting of Egypt during the war (for part of the book) that encouraged me to give it a try.

I finished it yesterday and think the sooner I write about it the better because I’m not left with a clear memory of the details at all – just the essence of it which I think will stay with me a lot longer.

Claudia Hampton is 76 years old and lies dying in a London hospital. Outwardly she is slipping in and out of consciousness and appears to the nursing staff to be confused when she talks of writing a history of the world interspersed with her own history. Inwardly everything is clear and as she looks back at the significant people and events in her life, the reader gets to share the life story of an inspirational and unorthodox woman. A woman who was beautiful, adventurous and independant and, apart from a brief period with the one love of her life, largely unattainable.

Claudia was a journalist & war correspondent and later a historian and author. A hard woman for women to relate to, the other female characters feel insignificant and clumsy around her. I found her relationship with her daughter Lisa especially sad in that Claudia found her dull and disappointing – and her daughter knew it. Yet there were things that both women would have been suprised to learn about each other.

The heart of Claudia’s story is her love of Tom, who she meets while covering the war, and the effect their relationship had on the rest of her life. In fact despite her outward aloofness, Claudia’s relationships make up her life and her story is about these relationships and way she chooses to live her life. I can’t say I liked her but I did admire her.

I struggled to appreciate the narrative style until late in the book which was a shame as by the end I liked it a lot. Claudia’s story flicks between the first and third person, and from different characters point of view of the exact same event. These events are not always told chronologically – but this was intentional on her part rather than a reflection of her declining health. It was a bit disjointed for me for most of the book unfortunately.

Moon Tiger was challenging and thought provoking with vivid characters. I liked it but I think I could like it a lot more with a second reading.

226 pages, 1987

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10 responses to “Moon Tiger – Penelope Lively

  1. I actually checked this one out from the library months ago but unfortunately had to return it unread. Hopefully I will read something by this author soon.

    • Lola – hope you enjoy when you do get to read her. I will definitely try something else now after reading Moon Tiger which I guess is a good sign..

  2. this is one I ve had on my to get list ,same as you because it won booker and also the setting appeals ,all the best stu

  3. I read it early this year and love it. It is true you will probably like it more on second read. I find Claudia very unconventional and honest.

    • JoV – Unconventional and honest is a good assessment of Claudia – both traits I admire in a character, I don’t think this is a book I will forget in a hurry, I just struggled a bit getting into any sort of rhythm with it. Glad to hear your loved it.

  4. I agree that Moon Tiger is a little challenging. Most of the other novels of hers that I have read are much easier to read. My favorite is Consequences.

    • Thomas – It’s funny you mention Consequences as I was looking at it at the library this morning – I think I will try that one next. Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. My book club read this a few years back…and I remember really liking it. (I’m all over that angsty love crap.) I also read The Photograph. Not as challenging as Moon Tiger, for sure. I liked it, too.

    • Christy – your comment about angsty love crap made me laugh! Good to know you liked The Photograph too, I think I will try that one for my next Penelope Lively read. I think Moon Tiger would be a great book club read.

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