I feel like I need a book that is not only well-written but also haunting with page turning moments that make my heart beat fast and outstanding characters so perfectly described that they no longer feel fictional. Moon Tiger wasn't quite that book. I haven't read a book recently that even came close. Sigh heard round the world, but on with the review.
Moon Tiger may not have been exactly what I would have hoped for in a Booker Prize book, but it was pretty good and recommendable. Author Penelope Lively puts a creative spin on the narrative. As Claudia, the elderly protagonist of Moon Tiger, wastes away in a hospital bed, she decides to write a history of the world, which is really a history of herself and the people closest to her. She does this by giving accounts in first person and then providing the historical version so that most of the story gets told from two angles even as both are Claudia's own creation. I was reminded of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in which the main character Joel has all memory of his ex-girlfriend removed. In the process, the audience learns about her through his memory, which if you think about it, may not be the most reliable. Both Moon Tiger and Eternal Sunshine require you to evaluate the narrator's view of the world and decide whether or not he or she is trustworthy.
Lively's writing and her character are never sentimental and the story proceeds at a good pace (despite being a "history of the world" the book is relatively short.) Claudia rehashes her relationship with Jasper, a smart but superficial playboy who is also the father of her nondescript daughter Lisa; her brother Gordon who was perhaps her most enduring love; and Tom, a man she met and fell in love with during World War II. Throughout her history, Claudia remains fairly stoic about her own transgressions and the painful events that changed her yet she also shows her humanity and subtly reveals some of her inner workings.
Lively's biggest achievement is in creating a carefully sketched, cohesive character void of saccharine who is compelling and real. Claudia is not literature's most interesting or enduring character, but she is an examination of a snippet of humanity.