on September 16, 2003
Perception. That is the major theme that occurs throughout the novel. The way we see and interpret events may not necessarily be the way others perceive them. One woman's "History of the World" can only be based on subjective interpretation.
Claudia Hampton has lived a full, rich life. At the age of 76, she's now on her deathbed, recalling a myriad of poignant moments she had experienced in her long life. Many people have made an impact upon her life: her brother Gordon, for example, who was a mirror image of Claudia, and who shared in their borderline-incestuous relationship. Her daughter Lisa, as different from her mother as could be. Her lover of many years, Jasper, who served his purpose, but who never truly won her heart. The love of her life, Tom, who she only knew for a short period of time but loved deeply and powerfully. They all play a part in what she calls "Claudia's History of the World". The bits and pieces of her life come rapidly, with no chronological order to bind them together, and Claudia takes the time to muse over everything that has made her who she is.
MOON TIGER is extremely powerful at times and always eloquently written. The love story between Tom and Claudia is breathtaking. Selfishly, I wish it had been longer. I yearned for more character development and depth in Tom, although as readers, we know as much about him as Claudia herself did. Their romance was brief, but passionate, and it left me yearning for more right along with Claudia.
A word of warning: although the book is relatively short (at 200 pages), it feels lengthy and drawn out at times. Again, this only serves to highlight Lively's skill at writing Claudia's last experiences. Of course, being a dying woman's memoirs, the book is short on plot and long on self-discovery, and reflection.
A must-read for lovers of literary fiction - but those with a taste for more adventurous plot lines would probably not find their desired reading material in MOON TIGER.
on April 23, 2005
An exotic novel about a love that haunts us from the grave to our own. Claudia's rendition of her affair in Egypt during a war, resulting in the loss of her great love and their unborn child, is depicted with an Englishwoman's genius of grammar, prose, and Latin-based mastery of the English language. Told through Claudia's story on her death bed between periods of consciousness, Penelope Lively distinguishes herself with the usage of narrative to describe a lifetime of mourning. Claudia mourns Tom throughout her adult and senior years as she lives a journalist's life in London, England. Lively's Claudia is a stubborn woman whose account of things, people, and relationships are rooted in her own view of the world. This is more than a romance, it is a look into the elements and pervasive condition of heartbreak over a lifetime. Tragic, humorous, and compelling. No wonder it was a Booker Prize - the most prestigious literary prize in the world for English language fiction.
on January 11, 2010
"Moon Tiger", for which the author won the Booker prize, is a book that I could admire, but not like. The main protagonist, Claudia Hampton, an accomplished historian, lies dying in a London hospital bed and looks back upon her life. The resulting series of first-person flashbacks, interspersed with third-person accounts of the same episodes, coalesce into a tightly constructed kaleidoscopic view of Claudia's life which is impressive for the skill with which it is achieved, but ultimately left me unmoved.
My fundamental problem with the book is that Claudia is such a self-satisfied narcissist that I tired of the recital of her various accomplishments and the smug superiority with which lesser characters in her history (her unfortunate sister-in-law, her disappointingly conventional daughter) are dismissed. Lively is no fool, and attempts to mitigate Claudia's unrelenting smugness with a brief episode of vulnerability and genuine emotion during a doomed World War II romance with a British tank commander who is subsequently killed in battle. The jacket cover inflates this episode by describing it as "the still point of her turning world", but the problem is that it fails to ring true. Ultimately, the version of Claudia that dominates the narrative is that of the smug, superior harpie. To whom my reaction was - why should anyone possibly care?
So, while I can admire the skill with which this book was written, the emotional vacuum at its core ultimately left me cold.
Thoroughly enjoyable. Claudia Hampton, a popular historian, lies dying in her hospital bed contemplating a tongue-in-cheek "History of the World." But what mainly emerges are memories of her own life, more vivid for her and the reader than the friends and relatives who visit from time to time. One theme dominates: her time in Egypt as a war correspondent in the 1940s and the great love of her life whom she met and lost there. Here, the writing is superb, with a compelling emotional immediacy and magnificent sense of place.* But interesting though the rest of Claudia's life is, it tends to pale beside these central chapters, hence the reluctant absence of the fifth star.
It also sets me wondering about the shape of the book as a whole. I have now read three of Penelope Lively's novels: her latest, CONSEQUENCES (2007); THE PHOTOGRAPH (2003), which I consider the best of the three; and this one, MOON TIGER, which won her the Booker Prize in 1987. All three are essentially romances. All feature independent women doing interesting jobs (writers, artists, academics). Despite their personal independence, the women are shown within the dynamics of families, in relation to a mother, a daughter, or (here especially) a brother -- only very occasionally a husband. Claudia, for example, is unmarried, but we hear of at least three men whom she has loved in different ways. She has a daughter, Lisa, who understands as little of her mother as she does of her; almost of equal significance to Claudia are her first baby lost in a miscarriage, and a Hungarian refugee whom she unofficially adopted. The family ties here vary from the almost meaningless to bonds so strong that they distort all other relationships. Lively's characters mostly forego the support of conventional values and religion; their main defence against the arbitrariness of fate is a strong sense of their own identity, and a very few special connections with others. Claudia protests that she is no feminist, but there she is wrong; Lively's books all come through as an exhilarating manifesto of the feminist spirit.
Lively's success resides less in her stories than in the way she tells them. I think the reason that I liked CONSEQUENCES less, despite the attractiveness of all its characters, was that the narrative began at the beginning and continued to the end. THE PHOTOGRAPH, conversely, begins at the end (with the discovery of a photograph of a dead woman) and works back to the beginning. MOON TIGER also begins at the end, but its action jumps around in much the way that memory does. It also has the delightful trick of occasionally describing the same event from two different points of view in quick succession. Besides, Claudia is so intelligent a companion and her History of the World notion is so amusingly bizarre that what might seem a depressing situation (an old lady dying of cancer, for heaven's sake) turns out to be full to the brim with life, love, and even laughter.
*[I came to this directly after reading two other works set at least partly in Egypt, Lawrence Durrell's ALEXANDRIA QUARTET and Michael Ondaatje's ENGLISH PATIENT. Lively's style is the most down to earth of the three, but no less vivid.]
on August 25, 2008
Winner of the 1987 Booker Prize, Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger is a contemporary pitch-perfect crafted novel that reverberates around the dying Claudia Hampton, a best selling author of popular history. Dying from cancer in a London hospital, she is forced into the cell of her bed, but while her body is severly restricted, her soul and consciousness are free, far from the repression of illness and medicinal injections. With that freedom, the independent Claudia takes a journey unlike any that she has taken previously; it is a journey into her inner self, into the treasure trove of her mind where all the experiences and memories of her earlier life are vaulted. And it is with that that she decides to write or convey an oral history to herself in the hopes of untangling the vast assortment of questions that accrue over a life span of how and why a person does the questionable things that they chose to do. She is, in essence, forced to go back in time and face her own Judgement. In the novel she confronts failed love (the character of Jasper), lost love (the tank commander Tom), a daughter with nothing in common (Lisa), to a plethora of other matters, both great and small. Moon Tiger is a good read, powerful in its evocation of the past through the kaleidoscopic memories of a dying soul. It is a work of fiction where the tapestry of memories becomes the art form, and the keeper of those memories becomes the artist. How true for us all.
on August 22, 2008
Nearing the end of her illustrious life, Claudia Hampton decides that her final work as a historian should be to write the history of the entire world. While she may not achieve this lofty goal, Claudia succeeds in providing the history of her own life. Lively uses her narrator's profession to great advantage, and the novel is comprised of Claudia's ruminations on her past told in the first person, as well as glimpses of her experiences told in third person. Her philosophies about history--which permit both anachronisms and fictionalization--dictate the manner in which her life story unfolds. Claudia informs us, "I've always thought a kaleidoscopic view might be an interesting heresy. Shake the tube and see what comes out. Chronology irritates me." Her other assessment, that she is "a myriad Claudias who spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water," also provides the framework for which the story will be told, and is representative of the poetic tone Lively uses throughout the novel.
The majority of the novel recounts Claudia's experiences as a journalist in Egypt during World War II, where she engages in a fondly-remembered romance with a soldier named Tom. With the exception of the unusually close bond she shares with her brother Gorden, most of the other events and interactions in Claudia's life--however exciting and life-altering--pale in comparison to her love for Tom. Her relationship with her daughter, Lisa, is strained, probably because two of Claudia's most admirable traits--professional ambition and wanderlust--result in frequent absences from the child's life. Although her relationship with Jasper, Lisa's father, is amicable and provides one of the few constants in Claudia's life, it lacks the intensity she feels with Tom. As her life draws to an end, Claudia considers the separateness of the past and present, while not discounting the former's everlasting influence.
While the temporal and narrative shifts are initially confusing, they work well within the greater concept of the novel, and it is interesting to watch Claudia's life unfold from the "kaleidoscopic" view. Occasionally, a scene narrated by Claudia will then be told in the third person, with slightly different details, adhering to the notion that history is never free of fiction. Lively's narrator is witty and amusing, albeit distant and abrasive to those around her. She's seldom apologetic or regretful which, strangely, seems to make her more likable. Claudia does not try to drive people away for the sake of being icy or vindictive, it is simply part of her nature to give precedence to her own pursuits. (As I was reading, Katharine Hepburn came to mind. Claudia would have been right at home in Hepburn's repertoire of unconventional, fiercely independent wartime heroines.)
on May 10, 1997
This book is now an A-level text for many U.K. exam boards and is wonderfully suitable for those teaching adolescents the craft of writing. Its changes in narrative position, the kaleidoscopic nature of the story as it is gradually revealed to us, the combination of old and young characters and the delightful sense of irony make it a magical book for the adolescent just beginning to realise that literature is more than linear narratives with happy-ever-after endings. Above all, it is transparently clear in style. It also makes a great accompanying-piece to Ondaatje's "The English Patient", which covers very similar themes and techniques of story-telling in a much more dense and poetic style
on March 23, 2015
First off, I hate that Amazon asks "Is there violence", as if that would sell the book. Yes there is, but it is a war story, so you can't expect a Disney fantasy, and the violence is not for the gratification of prurient desires, or 'entertainment'. The same is true with sexual content. This is about adults, and adults do make love. That said, Moon Tiger is one of the most captivating books I've read in a long time. Claudia, the basic protagonist is a professor of history, which is her life in this tale, which, at first, appears to be an autobiography. The conceit of the author, and the narrator, is that our world is not just that which goes on in our own minds, but also in other's conceptions of us. This is the fabric which makes us whole. Some episodes are thus repeated in the viewpoint of another person engaged in the scene. Lively uses this device with precision, that goes deep into the psyche of Claudia. At times we view her with disfavor, but, like a true acquaintance, the reader also sees her with affection. Lively won the Booker Prize for this book, and deserves it without reservation.
Penelope Lively is a modern British writer. Moon Tiger is one of her best, written in 1997. The book opens when Claudia is in her seventies and dying in a nursing home. Then there is a series of flashbacks to her life.
She's a wild and wonderful character from an upscale British home, battling with her brother in her childhood, and battling with everyone else after that. Yes, Claudia has a strong personality and there is nothing soft or sweet about her. She's a hard-boiled journalist who gets caught up in the winds of history, living in Egypt during WWII and writing about it with a sharp and realistic tongue and indulging in a love affair that ends in tragedy.
Her life is her career and she certainly is nonconventional. She is a mother of a daughter conceived with a Russian boyfriend who she was not intent on marrying. She's not a good mother in any sense of the word, leaving her daughter's upbringing to her own mother and being rather abrupt and unfeeling with the child.
Perhaps the best part of the book is her reportage of the War in Egypt. Usually books about WWII do not go into this aspect in much detail. However, her words makes it come alive. Her personality comes alive too. She is anarchistic, neurotic and filled with her own self-importance. Frankly, she is not a likable character. But she is real, very real and frankly, I loved her.
I enjoyed this book. It took me to a time and a place in history that I found fascinating. And I loved the view of history through the personal lens of this writer.
on April 18, 2015
When I first started this novel, I thought it jumped around rather chaotically, but then I realized that it was cleverly written like the mind of someone of advanced age who was dying. As it moved from present to past and back again, you began to see what Claudia's life had been. I found the descriptions of life in Cairo during World War II fascinating, as well as the British battles with Rommel. Very good book!