Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

[Hello! I’ve been reading some not great books recently – hence the great gap between the last review and this. You know the sort of thing I mean? The book that you read a couple of pages of and realise instantly that they’re not for you. That. A lot of them, suddenly, all at once like London buses. For a moment I was wondering if I was going to hate everything from now on but then along came Penelope Lively and everything changed. Thank heavens…]

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know Penelope Lively mainly from her remarkable children’s books (The Ghost of Thomas Kempe is very indicative of her thoughtful, frank writing) and I’ve been meaning to read more of her adult work for a long while. Moon Tiger is an excellent place to begin, for as I was reading it I was thinking of how much I envied every inch of it. This is a wild, beautiful, and rather ferociously elegant book, and it is impressive. So very much.

Claudia Hampton is dying. She is of a certain type of lady, redoubtable, fabulous, vain, complex, unknown, and she has decided that it is time to tell her history. She has spent her lifetime writing and so it is a fitting thing to do now that she has so very little time left. And so she tells her story: she spirals from memory to memory, from perspective to perspective, seeing things from one person’s point of view and then another. A paragraph here, a paragraph there, and Penelope Lively giving us an absolute lesson in writing in the process.

Full of wicked, sharp humour, and desperate, utter longing, this is such a remarkable book. Everything is just there, almost mercilessly so, and rading it is rather like looking through a kaleidoscope and into the heart of somebody sitting opposite you. It’s spare, straightforward, and rather more devastating at points than you can imagine.

I envy books such as this, because they define the idea of craft. Every inch of this feels almost three-dimensional, as though it’s cut from marble or chipped away from stone. A block of something transformed into everything. Such skill, such craft.

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