Read Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively Free Online
Book Title: Moon Tiger|
The author of the book: Penelope Lively
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 9.70 MB
Edition: Grove Press
Date of issue: December 31st 1988
ISBN 13: 9780802110275
Read full description of the books Moon Tiger:[U]nless I am a part of everything I am nothing.
We are like waves in a vast ocean moving forward to break upon the shore and vanish, yet the ocean remains. Each wave has it’s own narrative, each person a starring role in the story of their own lives, yet all of us are a collective ocean of minor and major roles coming and going from the larger narrative of human history. Penelope Lively’s Booker Prize winning novel Moon Tiger examines ‘the intimate debris of people’s lives’ through a sweeping century of history at its calms and most tumultuous moments while also being highly personal and private through the lens of Claudia Hampton and her close acquaintances. Though Moon Tiger was dismissed as the ‘housewife’s choice’ upon reception of the Booker Prize in 1987, do not let this misogynistic slight discourage you; this novel has teeth and bites with a walloping dose of grit through a mosaic masterwork of love, loss, war, incest and the fragile ties between people that bind and break. Moon Tiger moves with the ebb and flow of history, deftly sashaying across the lifespan of Claudia Hampton in a kaleidoscopic narrative that highlights the friction of lives passing and ricocheting with one another as well the human will in conflict with the horrors of history.
Language tethers us to the world; without it we spin like atoms.
As the novel opens, Claudia is dying slowly of stomach cancer and reflecting back over her life. She ‘does seem to have been someone’ as her doctor muses reading her charts--Claudia the historian, writer, mother, etc.--but Lively isn’t concerned with the accomplishments and signposts of a life, but rather the stories that surround them. Claudia will likely come across as thorny, and perhaps even unlikeable, to most readers but there is a real charm to be found in her fierce independence and will, and, as one finds with most people, the more you get immersed in her life the more you come to an understanding and sympathy for her. The stories that serve as scars and impetus for personality quirks are the gateways to empathy as well as the immortal residue of lives that linger on in the memories of those closest to us. ‘We all survive in the heads of others,’ says Claudia, and our stories live on because ‘words are more durable than anything, that they blow with the wind, hibernate and reawaken, shelter parasitic on the most unlikely hosts, survive and survive and survive.’ Claudia reflects early on about a photograph of a village street in which the photographer let the exposure go for sixty minutes. The result is that those who passed down the street during this time do not appear in the photograph due to the exposure length. ‘A neat image for the relation of man to the physical world,’ Claudia says of it, ‘Gone, passed through and away.’ Stories, then, are the way we grapple with the reality of our impermanence and assuage the pain caused by the impermanence of those we love.
‘The power of language. Preserving the ephemeral; giving form to dreams, permanence to sparks of sunlight.’
While Moon Tiger is a novel of love--be it love found and lost or love neglected--it is also a love story to language and the way it shapes history. Many of the characters are occupied with preserving history: Claudia as a historian of questionable academic accuracy; Jaspar and his work on a war-glorifying television series; or Tom’s war diary where he needs to ‘get yesterday down while I still have the taste of it.’ Claudia tells us that ‘once it is all written down we know what really happened,’ because we use language to assess and process life while also digesting it in narrative form as if to secure our role in the immortality of history. When the times are out of joint it is brought uncomfortably home to you that history is true and that unfortunately you are a part of it. One has this tendency to think oneself immune. This is one of the points when the immunity is shown up as fantasy. Language and memory commingle, ‘you keep the dead with you forever and deny the possibility of your own annihilation,’ as if composing the narrative filled with anecdotes of the dead place the storyteller on a God-like pedestal of creation in hopes of retaining the immortality of the Creator’s role.
We are ‘a people obsessed with mortality’ and the fascination and fear of death subconsciously makes its way into many of our actions and relationships. Claudia’s callus impression and treatment of Lisa is linked to the child she did not have. ‘Giving presents is one of the most possessive things we do, did you realize that?’ Tom says to Claudia. ‘It's the way we keep a hold on other people. Plant ourselves in their lives.’ Our relationships and holds we keep on others assures us a tiny piece of us will go on without us. We are constantly trying to dig our heels into history in hopes of not being washed away by it. Most notable is Claudia’s relationship with her brother Gordon. ‘Incest is closely related to narcissism,’ Claudia muses. The incestual realtionship is a key to understanding Claudia, who openly admits to being self-centered (‘aren’t we all? Why is it a term of accusation?’), as it reflects the desire to love oneself and one’s existence. ‘We looked at one another and saw ourselves translated...we were an aristocracy of two,’ she says. It’s a way of joining her childhood past to her present, embracing all the past Claudias and past Gordons and their youthful camaraderie, like fortifying the lifeline. The incestual aspects also nudge towards the idea of nobility, keeping the crown and power within a noble bloodline as if in hopes of an immortality. While it is never made factually clear if there was ever actualization to the incestual tendedencies, there is a dance sequence between the two in which Lively joyfully toys with such overtly sexual language that even the most prudish reader will pick up that something is sexually implicit in the metaphor.
‘’Let me contemplate myself within my context: everything and nothing.’
A tidy summary Moon Tiger’s plot would be a massive disservice to the novel. Unadorned by style and voice, Moon Tiger doesn’t sound relatively fresh, we follow the life from cradle to grave--her affairs, budding romance with a dashing soldier, successes, failures, etc--all played out on the stage of historical context. ‘There are plenty who would point to it as a typical presumption to align my own life with the history of the world,’ Claudia admits as she sets up the rather meta-narrative of the novel: The question is, shall it or shall it not be linear history? I’ve always thought a kaleidoscopic view might be an interesting heresy. Shake the tube and see what comes out. Chronology irritates me. There is no chronology inside my head. I am composed of a myriad Claudias who spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water. Lively’s refreshing pace with it’s mosaic technique avoids linear chronology and, quite rightly so, favours an introspective emotional climactic discovery and delivery over a natural climax of plot. It also allows for a refracted image of each character, seeing them in different times and ages with each flip of the page which enables us to sift through their lives in a way to best pinpoint what makes them Them and examine aspects of personality in isolated incident instead of focusing on overall development (rest assured to those who prefer character development over character study, the principal cast are blissfully well developed over the course of the novel) and cause and effect of personality. ‘In my head, Jaspar is fragmented: there are many Jaspars, disordered, without chronology. As there are many Gordons, many Claudias.’ The effect also allows the progression of the novel to assess aspects of Claudia in a way that makes cause and effect more like a mystery to unravel--had the novel been linear certain emotional reveals would have carried little weight. Though Laszlo enters Claudia’s world in her forties, not introducing the character until the final segments of the novel builds for a redemptive conclusion to her poor mother skills personality plotlines.
Another refreshing and engaging stylistic choice are the multiple voices that help the story spiral around in a whirlwind of overlapping and incongruous perspectives. We witness the same event from several vantage points and have to conclude for ourselves what is ‘truth’. Lively utilizes this narrative structure to examine the dramatic ironies of life, probing the psychology of secrets we take to the soil with us, the lies we tell, and examines how much of the hurt we inflict on others is due to misunderstanding or acting on half-understood information. Lively’s prose is very fluid and adapts into multiple unique and distinctive voices that function effortlessly and adds authenticity to the style instead of condemning it to gimmickry.
I began Moon Tiger on a plane trip across the Atlantic. It seemed the perfect context to begin the novel as I was hoping to force myself to ignore the contexts of time to avoid jet-lag on a trip that felt more like fiction than reality. This became the first of an international bookclub between my wife and I, reading it back and forth to each other over Skype as we still live separated by the ocean (this book is particularly exciting to read aloud as it offers multiple voices to switch between). There is something to be said about the power of good literature here: it binds people. Look at this wonderful community of readers on Goodreads, coming together over shared love for novels despite distance, culture, age, social standings, etc. Like the characters in the novel, we are all finding way to plant ourselves in the world, in the lives of others, and opening our hearts to allow others to grow within us like a seed of memory. We write about the books, about our experience reading the books--forever this book will retain the feelings of the Egypt Room where we read it as I kept falling asleep--wrapping our personal narratives with the novel’s own, and with the larger community of readers. Shared love for a book becomes a way to share love. That is something very important we need to continue to embrace in a world where we are all marching towards an inevitable end. Love each other, remember those you love, share your stories. Much like Claudia’s assertion, we understand history through the written word. We are all chroniclers of the new horizons, the poets and historians of the present. We cannot stop death, but at least we can live on regardless. Moon Tiger is an extraordinary book with a fascinating, strong and fiercely independent female lead (though she does come with a certain amount of white privilege that is impossible to ignore) and no one who reads her story will forget her. Words live on, and so we write.
‘Death is total absence, you said. Yes and no, You are not absent so long as you are in my head. That, of course, is not what you meant; you were thinking of the extinction of the flesh. But it is true; I preserve you, as others will preserve me. For a while.’
Read information about the authorPenelope Lively CBE (born March 17, 1933) is a prolific, popular and critically acclaimed author of fiction for both children and adults. She has been shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize, winning once for Moon Tiger in 1987.
Born in Cairo in 1933, she spent her early childhood in Egypt, before being sent to boarding school in England at the age of twelve. She read Modern History at St Anne's College, Oxford, and settled in England.
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