MOON TIGER by Penelope Lively

I can see why Penelope Lively’s novel MOON TIGER won the Booker Prize in 1987. It is a beautifully written novel, awe-inspiring over its control of multiple points of view and in its non-linear story telling.

We start in the present, with elderly Claudia Hampton ill in hospital, dying of cancer. As she lies in bed, memories of her past flicker through her consciousness, but not in chronological order. Reading this novel is like delving into someone’s past, like peeling layers off an onion, until we get to the core of the story, which is…But I don’t want to spoil this novel for you, so I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

We learn about Claudia, her quiet mother, her unusually close relationship with her brother Gordon, her disdain for Gordon’s wife Sylvia, her partner Jasper and her daughter-whom-she-doesn’t-understand Lisa. We also learn about another man in her life.

Without spoiling the plot, I will say that I found the characterization of the lover, Tom, wanting. Claudia is portrayed as such a sharp-tongued, opinionated, fiercely intelligent woman that for the life of me I couldn’t see why she was attracted to quiet, decent Tom. I couldn’t figure out why he made such a powerful impression on her. By contrast, her relationships with her argumentative brother Gordon and the sexually powerful Jasper were easy to understand and imagine. I know it seems awfully presumptuous NOT to give a Booker-prize-winning novel five stars, but I’m going to give this four stars, taking a star off for the problematic Tom.