Moon Tiger is one of those books that I have seen on the shelves of charity shops and libraries for years, got wind of from bookish friends and just never felt compelled enough to pick up and read. However, following a compelling review by Simon at Savidge Reads, I decided the time had finally come, and what better excuse do I need to explore Manchester’s temporary – but very nicely done up – City Library.
I have to admit that this has been a difficult book to reconcile myself with. Not only did the premise of reading about an elderly woman on her deathbed sound a little depressing but our main protagonist neither said nor did very much to endear me throughout the initial few chapters.
Claudia Hampton is a 76 year old woman; terminally ill and compiling her ‘History of the World’, a history that quickly descends into reminiscing about her life, the people within it, and the events that have shaped her. Throughout the sporadic retelling of her history, which occurs quite naturally and not necessarily chronologically as she slips in and out of consciousness, we meet significant characters and are transported through two world wars, the stark desert landscape of a besieged Egypt and an earth shattering romance to the present day to observe a strained and awkward daughter, a self-absorbed lover and a tortured, Hungarian artist visiting her bedside.
Although I struggled to get along with Claudia at first, upon reflection I get the feeling that Lively has quite deliberately created a woman who the reader isn’t necessarily going to warm to right away. Why, after all, should we always been indulged like children and feel comfortable with every character we encounter? As a professional (albeit controversial) historian and war correspondent, she is a strong, opinionated, compelling character whose ramblings betray some intriguing points of view. On the other hand, I found her to be obnoxious, arrogant, self-centered, cold and superior, meaning that I spent the first few chapters wondering exactly why I should care about her life at all!
That aside, Lively did a fairly good job at crawling back some of my compassion, although her (almost) mother-like relationship with Lazlo didn’t quite do it, her passionate relationship with Tom, an officer fighting out in the desert in Egypt during WWII, certainly did. In this short portion of the book we could almost be reading the internal thoughts of a completely different woman; soft, loving and refreshingly vulnerable.
It is very difficult to really adore a book when you can’t completely sympathise with characters or situations (e.g. I found her relationship with her brother Gordan to be a little disturbing, you’ll have to read the book to learn more!) but I do relish a challenge and I do admire strong female characters. Do persevere with this book. It is very well-written, quite compelling and does create a bit of conflict in your mind. And if you persevere for just one thing, stick it out for the end. The final chapter contains some of the most beautiful and poignant passages I have read over the past couple of years. Claudia’s honest approach to both her situation and the legacy she will leave behind is both admirable and thought-provoking.