viernes, 30 de marzo de 2012

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

Time is undoubtedly linear, but our perception of it is not. And for Claudia Hampton, the principal character of Penelope Lively’s novel, Moon Tiger, time, manifest as her life, is a veritable jumble of memories, unfulfilled ambition, probabilities and denied possibilities. She is confused, at least on the outside, and lying infirm in a nursing home bed. But her mind is alive with a life lived, a life she distils to share with us.

Claudia´s confusion, however, is only an external phenomenon. Internally her memory is sharp, if not ordered. She reminisces on childhood, eager sexual awakening in adolescence, a career as a war correspondent, historian and writer, an affair or two, one very special but doomed, an eventual marriage, maturity, parenthood and old age, but not necessarily in that order. Events are assembled and revisited. Along the way there has been death, birth, a miscarriage, disappointment, fulfilment and ambition, seasoned with shakings of passion, hatred, pride and not a little incest. It has been an interesting life, especially remarkable for the way that Claudia relives it for us.

Claudia’s memories are often intense. There is an attention to detail that renders her character completely three dimensional, four if you include time. She has struggled – and continues to do so – with what seems to be a fundamental lack of love for her daughter, Lisa, and a deep impatience with her grandchildren. Jasper, her partner, was something of a disappointment, but at least a reassuring one, after war had dealt cruelly with what she herself had wanted.

Claudia not only recalls but also relives her passion. She has often been free with her affections, but she has only once given herself completely. Her recollections of the horrors of war are both raw and stark. There is no heroism here: heroic deeds maybe, but only when the protagonists effect them by default.

But in many ways Claudia’s life stopped those years ago in the nineteen forties. What life promised would never be realised and what it had generated died before it truly came to life. Living has thus been a compromise that Claudia herself was only partially willing to make. It is into the gaps left by compromise that occasional views of her from another’s perspective add real spice to the narrative.

Moon Tiger is a complex, challenging read. It is so rewarding, however, that time stands still while you read, but then, at the end, seems to have flashed by in an instant. The instant, of course, was Claudia’s life. Moon Tiger was a brand of mosquito repellent that Claudia and her lover burned during their brief time together in Egypt. What was left was just a little ash.

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