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

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Yet another British war novel but with an unconventional setting and narrative style - Moon Tiger

I'm guessing that most of the enthusiasm, including the Booker Prize, that rose up for Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger (1987) came about because of her account of the war years in Cairo, in which the narrator, Claudia, served as a war correspondent. God knows there are many novels about WWII, especially English novels. In fact, are there any 20th-century English novels (even 21st century - think Kate Atkinson) that do not concern one or both of the World Wars? There are so many that I thought Ian McEwen's Atonement - one of the best British novels of the past 20 years - took on both world wars (as well as country manor and boarding school) in an attempt to punch-list all of the cliched British-fiction topics and to one-up. So yes, Lively was on familiar ground in some ways, but there aren't many that I can think of that focus on North Africa. And her account from the correspondent's POV of desert warfare is terrific; at one point one of the soldiers describes desert warfare as like a board game w/out a board, which I think is a terrific analogy. So amid the unconventional narration of this novel - shift from first- to third-person narration, story told out of narrative sequence, the idea that the narrator is composing this novel in her head as she lies on her deathbed, nearly comatose - the novel adds something to the storehouse of British war fiction and touches on the familiar tropes: It's a novel experimental in form but not in content. At heart, it's a story of love lost during warfare: Claudia meets a British soldier, Thomas, has a brief on-leave affair with him, falls in love, and then he is lost in battle (or so it seems at least) - the ur-war novel, in a sense (follow-ups include The English Patient, the afore-mentioned Atkinson, many that I haven't read). One thing that puzzles me as I pass the half-way point in Moon Tiger is the narrator's various references to writing a "history of the world" (she is a popular, non-academic historian, perhaps like a Barbara Tuchman); is the narrative of her life story meant to be analogous to a world history (rather presumptuous I think), or is she saying that every life is a version of the history of the world because history consists of a near infinitude of individual lives, not of great battles and discoveries (a Tolstoyan idea). In any event, Lively isn't clear about the narrator's intentions and ambitions, at least t this point.

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