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Thursday, May 18, 2017

An unconventional narrative that advances the narrative rather than obscures in: Moon Tiger

I'm increasingly impressed w/ Penelope Lively's 1987 novel, Moon Tiger, as a terrific novel about the entire course of the life of the narrator (in the "present tense" of the novel she is in hospice care, sometimes near comatose, at other times relatively communicative) and as an examination of a # of issues, most notably the trauma and sorrow that those who survived the second World War endured and the sexism that marginalized women journalists and academics. The narrator, Claudia, was a war correspondent in Egypt; she met and fell in love w/ a British soldier, who later died in battle, and she never recovers from that loss. Reading through the novel we learn that after the war she engaged in an incestuous relationship with her brother (he, too, was traumatized by loss, but we don't know much about his suffering) and established a relationship w/ a social-climbing careerist academic, Jasper, and they have child together though the never marry (the child, Lisa?, has children of her own in the "present" and is carrying on an affair w/ a doctor - whom she hopes to leave her husband for and marry, when her children are older). It's a sad and unconventional novel; because of Lively's unusual narrative, which shifts between first and 3rd person and tells the story out of chronological sequence, it's hard at first to understand the characters, but their lives gradually come into focus - more accurately, it's as if pieces in a puzzle come into place and provide an increasingly full picture - and by the final third of the novel we feel and understand their grief. I don't yet fully get the narrator's claim that she is writing (in her mind) a complete history of the world, unless all she means by this is that if you tell the complete history of a life you've conveyed the history of the world by analogy. Lively's type of narrative games-manship is something I usually don't care for or even disdain - as  quaint relic from another era of writing (postmodernism of the 70s), finding that it usually obscures the narrative and gets in the way of the reader like stumbling blocks. Not here - Lively's narration is easy to follow because of excellent transitions between segments and the broken narrative mirrors rather than obscures the complex patterns and relationships among the characters and across a span of some 80 years.

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