Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively
Grove Press, 208 pages
Slowly, in a London hospital, the renowned historian Claudia Hampton lay dying of cancer. She is in the last stages of the disease; her body has lost the ability to do very much and her mind drifts in and out of consciousness. When she is awake, however, she is sharp enough to want occupation, so she decides to spend her final days mentally writing a history of the world using her own life as a framework.
Claudia’s inner voice tells her story through her relationships with those most closely connected to her and through the political events of her time. In childhood, she formed a highly intimate bond with her brother Gordon as they hunted for fossils, studied Classics, and felt the first stirrings of sexuality. The two separated in late adolescence to pursue their studies, and after a solid education in History, Claudia entered the political sphere by becoming a war correspondent. In Cairo, she fell in love with Tom Southern, an army captain, and the two began to make plans for their life together after the war. Tom, however, did not survive, leaving Claudia to construct a meaningful reality that would always be second best.
Moon Tiger floats between past and present as it reveals the path of Claudia’s life. After the war, she abandoned journalism to concentrate on writing history books that people would actually want to read, and was quite successful. She reconnected with her brother on slightly altered terms, became permanently attached to the dashing if unreliable Jasper through the birth of their daughter, and became the unexpected protector of a young Hungarian refugee whose home country was in the midst of a revolution.
Poetic, moving, and psychologically astute, Moon Tiger will appeal to readers of Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and A.S. Byatt.