Thursday, December 24, 2015

Complex yet subtle--just as people are!

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Image result for moon tiger cover imageThis book won the Booker Prize in 1987 and 
was a rather unique reading experience for me.
I cannot recall exactly how I became interested in this book, 
but am glad I did!

Although the writing appeared to be a bit fragmented initially, within the first 10 pages or so it began to gel for me and flow along beautifully. I am counting this as a Classics Club read--it is almost 30 years since its release and I believe it is a unique and lasting literary contribution. 

I love Claudia's 'stream of consciousness' (seemingly random) thoughts at the beginning of the book. 
My readers know the story, of course. They know the general tendency. They know how it goes. I shall omit the narrative. What I shall do is flesh it out; give it life and colour, add the screams and the rhetoric. Oh, I shan't spare them a thing. (2)
Admittedly, at this point I was wondering about this particular reading experience and what I should expect! :) I felt as if Lively was preparing me for a unique experience. And I was right! She very much did exactly that. 

In contemplating writing the history of the world, Claudia wonders...
...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. There is no sequence, everything happens at once. (2)
I could not help but concur with her description. Memories, or our own individual 'history' certainly does not emerge into our conscience mind in linear fashion. We have memories here and there and all over the map...and sometimes all at once. I love "like sparks of sunlight on water," which is a perfect analogy, in my opinion. 

So, after the first two pages I am rather clued in that (1) this may well not be a 'typical read,' and (2) I think this is going to be an enjoyable 'ride'! And so it was... :)

Claudia's 'history of the world' would be
  Self-centred? Probably. Aren't we all? Why is it a term of accusation? That is what it was when I was a child. I was considered difficult. Impossible, indeed, was the word sometimes used. I didn't think I was impossible at all; it was mother and nurse who were impossible,...with their terror of all that was inviting about the natural world -- high trees and deeper water and the texture of wet grass on bare feet, the allure of mud and snow and fire. I was always ached -- burned -- to go higher and faster and further. They admonished; I disobeyed. 
   Gordon, too. My brother Gordon. We were birds of a feather.(2)
Perhaps one huge reason I was able to relate to this book is that much like Claudia, I also was raised in virtual isolation. My mother and I lived with my grandmother on her 180-acre farm, and trust me, I knew every square inch of that property, intimately! I loved nothing more than to explore the land with my faithful canine companion in tow--Beauty, my collie. (I just realized I have absolutely no pictures of her and that makes me very sad...) This isolation also accounts for much of Claudia's very independent personality as an adult, as well as the relationship with her brother, which, when in their teens (when hormones are rampant), extends beyond 'socially-acceptable' boundaries. Admittedly, this is the first time I felt I could 'understand' an incestuous bond. These two people did sincerely 'love' each other in all aspects implied by that one word; theirs was an intimate relationship to remain unmatched with any other individual in their separate lives.

...when you and I talk about history we don't mean what actually happened, do we?...We mean the tidying up of this into books, the concentration of the benign historical eye upon years and places and persons. History unravels; circumstances, following their natural inclination, prefer to remain ravelled. 
  So, since my story is also theirs, they, too must speak -- Mother, Gordon, Jasper... Except that of course I have the last word. The historian's privilege. (6)
Ah, I so love this passage! Isn't it the truth?!? We humans love to believe we can 'unravel' that which remains 'ravelled' when left in its natural state--and any of our retelling is always very 'self-centred' in the fact that our own personal experiences, opinions, and attitudes skew any 'telling' or 'memories' to include our own viewpoint and perspective. Though it is typically unconsciously done, this fact of life has been proven repeatedly in research studies. It has been proven to me with my own friends and family--rarely do any two of us have the same interpretation of shared memories. This variability amazes me! There truly is very little 'objective recollection' of events when told by a human being. 

Claudia was not necessarily what one might call a 'sentimental' soul, especially when it comes to her daughter, Lisa:
  Children are infinitely credulous. My Lisa was a dull child, but even so she came up with things that pleased and startled me. "Are there dragons?' she asked. I said that there were not. 'Have there ever been?' I said all the evidence was to the contrary. 'But if there is a word dragon,' she said, 'then once there must have been dragons.' 
  Precisely. The power of language. Preserving the ephemeral; giving form to dreams, permanence to sparks of sunlight. (9)
I would say Claudia was a 'realistic parent;' not romanticizing a child just because it happens to be her own daughter. I guess I could relate as I believe myself to think in much the same terms about my own children and grandchildren. We are all just human! Not one of us is perfect or without faults. :)

In describing her partner, 
...In my head, Jasper is fragmented: there are many Jaspers, disordered, without chronology. As there are many Gordons, many Claudias. 
I was fascinated by Claudia's descriptions of Gordon and Jasper--one a much more 'intimate' relationship than would be expected (or necessarily acceptable) for siblings, and the other much less so for 'life partners.' 
It should be clear by now how [Jasper] fits into the scheme of things. Lover to begin with, sparring partner always, father of my child; our lives sometimes fusing, sometimes straying apart, always connected. I loved him once, but cannot remember how that felt. (51)
I could better understand her relationship with Jasper after reading about her relationship with the one true love of her life (next to Gordon), Tom. From his diary, received by Claudia from Tom's sister:
  We all talk about 'after the war' but it is almost an incantation -- a protective device...One
  thinks about it, one day-dreams, makes conjures up a place stripped of 
  imperfections...which never existed and never will. So one shoves that out of the way and 
  summons up more wholesome stuff like hot meals, clean sheets, drink and sex. All those 
  things one took for granted a bare three years ago which now take on almost holy 
  significance. Which seems at times to be what we are fighting for. 
  I never told [Claudia] the other story, in which she stars, in which she is always the 
  heroine -- a romanticised story full of cliche images in which I am telling her all the 
  things there has not been enough time for, in which we are doing all the things there has 
  not been enough time for, in which this damn thing is suspended and we are living 
  happily ever after, world without end, amen. To such indulgences have I sunk. (200)
Though I have never fought in a war or come close to it, this seems such a perfect description...

Although Lively's writing style wasn't generally as smooth as I typically appreciate, it was powerful, and reflective of the protagonist's personality--just as I would expect Claudia to tell us her story. Though presented in 'kaleidoscope' fashion, the text flowed for me, leaving strong impressions and emotional reactions as I would hope for and appreciate. Claudia led a very fulfilled and independent life for the most part, especially for the time in which this is set. Females were not yet expected to be or even acceptable as such independent adults as was Claudia! 
The teachers all disliked me. 'I'm afraid,' wrote someone on a school report, 'that Claudia's intelligence may well prove a stumbling-block unless she learns how to control her enthusiasms and channel her talents.' Of course, intelligence is always a disadvantage. (22)
Ooohhhh...I feel as if this is no longer true. At least I would hope not. I was quite a nerd in high school--a student who truly loved to learn (as I still do!) and it does make some people a bit uncomfortable. This also helps explain why I abhor 'gossip' and other inane conversational topics! :) Once a nerd always a nerd, I guess!

I found Moon Tiger to be engaging and enlightening! Perhaps I could relate so well to Claudia because she and I apparently share some personality characteristics. Also, she lived out one of my vocational fantasies, that of a traveling correspondent/journalist. I'm sure my perceptions of this lifestyle are romanticized, but I just think it would be amazing to be acquainted with so many worldwide sites and cultures! 

Have you read this one or any other books written by Penelope Lively? 
I agree with the Daily Telegraph's review: "A complex tapestry of great subtlety."
I was very pleasantly surprised and delighted with this book and author!
Here is a Guardian interview with the author.
I marked her 2007 release, Consequences, as the next one to read.
I am anxious to discover whether this same writing style pervades all her books 
or is more specific to Claudia telling her own story, if that makes sense! :)

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