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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Experimental narration - English v American

Reading NYTBR cover profile of Penelope Lively made me realize I had never read her Booker-winning novel, Moon Tiger, though it's been on my shelf (and list) for decades, so here goes. We recognize pretty quickly that this will be an unconventional narrative, as the novel begins w/ an elderly woman in what seems to be in hospice care; she is the narrator, and tells us she wants to write the history of the world. We also in some passages see her from her caregiver's POV, and she seems to be almost comatose. History of the world? She philosophizes a bit, reflecting on her belief that each life represents an entire history of the world, whatever that exactly means. As the narrative gets under way we move about in time and perspective - some passages in which the narrator (Claudia) describes her childhood (rivalry w/ older brother who will as an adult become a famous scholar or historian). We also learn of her liaison with a dashing diplomat, Jasper - they never marry but the have a child, and of her difficult adult relationship w/ her brother and his much-less-intellectual wife; one section involves a visit to Plymouth Plantation (the brother teaches half the academic year at Harvard). So the novel breaks w/ narrative convention - but Lively's writing is clear and the cast of characters is limited so the narration is easy to follow. Reading this novel I sense how the English were behind American writers in narrative experimentation and unconventional plot structure: That lay at the heart of American fiction in the 80s and was just starting to make its way to England - led and inspired by a few fabulists only today receiving recognition (Angela Carter), some writers who befriended Americans and even moved to the U.S. (Carey, Amis), and most of all by the third-world writers in English, such as Rushdie. Strangely, today American writing is generally more conventional while the English as still playing around w/ narrative trickery (Life After Life, Nutshell, to cite to recent examples) - or maybe I'm just over-generalizing from a few examples. From reading the dedication and some other notes at the front of the novel, it appears that much of Moon Tiger will take place in Cairo (were Lively was born) during the War (what would an English novel be w/out one or even 2 world wars), that that hasn't happened in the first 40 or so pages.

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