Margaret Atwood and opening chapters. With no awareness of what follows, this first chapter could almost be what a friend of mine refers to as pink herrings. There’s a sense of sisterhood about it, of all being in it together. Even their minders, Aunts, are differentiated from the Guards, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Aunts are protecting, rather than…
How it impacts then on the realisation, so it seems at first that we’re in a world of women, controlled by women. How tenuous are alliances and allegiances. It’s a measure of how we trust, how much we trust, how far we’re prepared to go. It’s a measure of the fine balance of power and how it changes our perception of those we think we know. And how interesting, as a man, to feel for Luke’s dilemma in that fulcrum moment: He must believe she knows he’ll not abandon her, and yet he must know she cannot but doubt his stance – not perhaps because he is suddenly aware of the power he holds, but that she is acutely aware of the power she has lost. The imbalance cannot be supported.
The planning and execution of the coup are frighteningly believable, perhaps now even more so. Ultimately it’s the patriarchy and the corruption that instil that sense of the believable, the norm. To have simply subjugated all women would I think have resulted in ‘an interesting story’ rather than excellent, believable and psychologically terrifying tale it is.
Are there any questions?
How chilling it is that we can look back from the safety of our modernity and raise a sardonic smile at the barbarism of the past. In a world where oppression and repression are perennial weeds it chimes like a bell in the conscience: at least it’s not happening to me. Is this how we learn history’s lessons, rather than learning from them?
It’s no surprise that any good book you’ve read about the war isn’t actually about the war. Wars, after all, are never about the people caught up in them. But what more poignant landscape could you choose to raise the question of identity. From choosing (or not – who could really know?) to forget through to blindly believing to the point of delusion, it’s the question that rises again and again.
Everything from the animals to the gender of nationalism comes under scrutiny, and whilst the enemy of my enemy isn’t quite the ticket, it’s clear that emotions are a partisan business. It’s a tale told tightly, and all the better for the lack of heroics – at least in the conventional sense of war stories. Above all, for me, the overriding question is how close we all are – in our own way – to sheep on a hillside, conditioned to believe what we do about who our friends, neighbours, enemies are.
A book that is the fictitious book that’s in the book. Is it? In a way Moon Tiger is a history of the world, though its vein is the protagonist’s own unashamedly solipsistic view. She is a survivor, a compelling protagonist, enjoyable as much for her own revelling in her unreliable-narratorly traits as for her sheer will to be. She is her own Moon Tiger, burning through, circling and circling her existence, stubbornly repelling what she can to the very end.
And what an end! I can’t recall a more beautifully written coda than this one. It quite simply is, until it is no longer.
It’s a strange feeling I get with Penelope Lively books – I remember it from ‘According To Mark’ – that immediately I’ve finished it, I could turn it over and begin again. I feel as though all I’ve done is rub the dust off the richness that is there. There’s a sentence about three quarters of the way through that pulled me up. Not that it is incongruous or glorious in an ostentatious way, rather the opposite, and that it was so vehement in its expression.
In Cairo in 1942 I raged at the continuing universe; I walked, on that appalling day, beside the Nile and the whole beautiful place was an offence – the life, the colour, the smells and sounds, the palms, the feluccas, the kites endlessly circling in the hard blue sky.
I think it’s those last three syllables that offset the erstwhile beauty of the scene and syncopate the sense of rage.
I love the cover too.