Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

9780141188317HThere are some books that define you at a certain moment in your life. Some, on the other hand, illustrate what you want your future to look like, who you want to be “when you grow up”. For me, Moon Tiger was the latter.

It was on a suggested reading list in the summer between my first and second year of college. I was 17, prone to wearing scarves as belts, head-over-heels in love for the very first time and never to be seen without a book in my hand. While others groaned, I snatched up that reading list and rushed to the library. I have never been able to resist a reading list.

Moon Tiger is the story of Claudia Hampton, a fiercely intelligent (and, occasionally, just plain fierce), beautiful and famous writer. She is dying in hospital and the nurses seem to have no idea that she was once such a dynamo. From her hospital bed she declares that she is going to write a history of the world. But the book is not just her story, Lively manages to use all perspectives – Claudia’s brother Gordon, her daughter Lisa, her lover Jasper. Lively switches effortlessly between them, but of course, Claudia’s is the most strident voice of all.

When I was 17, desperate to write, to change the world and to explore it, I overlooked the darker aspects of Claudia’s character. I admired her for cutting such a dash, for being so smart and sassy. I wanted to travel across the world, writing about what I saw, having wild romances. Re-reading it now, I see how she is flawed, how she fails as a mother and as a friend. Claudia is perhaps not the best person for a young girl to admire. But admire her I did and even now, I admire her sharpness, her determination to live as she pleases, to not go gentle into that good night.

That is what I take from the book now. I am the opposite of Claudia, I knew it then and I know it now. But that is why this book had such impact on me. I saw in it what I needed to learn – I needed to learn to be tougher, to take things less to heart, to be willing to open my mouth and voice my opinions. And that is exactly what I did. I have never cut quite the same dash that Claudia has, but I have argued for what I believed it, I did finally put pen to paper. Most of all, I stopped caring so much about what others thought.

Moon Tiger is a wonderful book. The characters, the story, the way Lively changes perspective, all make for a good read. And at only a little over 200 pages, it’s a quick read too.

But it also proves that you can learn something from even the most frustrating and flawed characters. Claudia Hampton taught me that I have a voice and by channelling Claudia, I learned the courage to use that voice.

Penguin Classics, 2006. ISBN-10:9780141188317. 224pp.

[Proof, if proof were necessary, that Nikki has found her voice can be found here, at her blog]

9 comments on “Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

  1. Moira
    May 9, 2011

    Terrific piece, Nikki … and a great analysis of how what we take away from a book changes as we grow older and understand more. I’ve never actualy read Moon Tiger – but you obviously succeeded in taking the good and leaving the – errm – slightly suspect. :0)

  2. Jackie
    May 9, 2011

    I like how you don’t dismiss the book from a more mature view point, but rather acknowledge the flaw while still remembering why it had such an impact. It also pays tribute to your powers of observation at any age, that you recognized the characteristics that you most wanted to have & that they are such opposites to your own. Usually people relate to characters with traits similar to their own, so it seems to be a high degree of self-improvement that you have. That’s something that a lot of people never attain, at any age.
    Even if you haven’t done all the things you would’ve liked, I think you turned out pretty well anyways. 🙂

  3. Shelley
    May 10, 2011

    They say that the pop music you hear from the late teens to the early twenties will remain your taste for the rest of your life. Maybe something similar is true for those books we first read during college.

  4. Nikki
    May 11, 2011

    Moira, I’d really recommend it. It’s a great book. Jackie, I’m far too in touch with my inner child to dismiss anything I loved when I was little! When I’ve been ill I reach for old favourites – Beatrix Potter, Harry Potter, Famous Five. There’s an element of comfort, even when you see more in it than you did originally, because it takes you back, there’s comfort in the nostalgia.

    Shelley, don’t they say that people tend to listen mostly to the music of their youth, more so than new stuff? I think that’s true, but maybe I’m just lazy!

  5. Hilary
    May 12, 2011

    I loved the approach you’ve taken to ‘Moon Tiger’ in this review, Nikki. It’s food for thought for other themed weeks, to focus on a particular facet of a book and its impact. Here, you’ve reflected on how the passage of time has affected your response, and how, just as you’ve changed, the character, who one might reasonably expect is fixed in the imaginary creation of the author, has changed too. Gives a bit of an added slant to my 2nd and 3rd laws, Every reader his or her book, and Every book its reader. I’m fascinated by the intersection between book and reader, and how the encounter can be different over time, even if both book and reader are the same.

    I’ll stop rambling now …..

  6. lisa
    May 15, 2011

    Lovely review of what sounds like a very vivid and refreshing novel. Can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Moon Tiger (and what an excellent title that is.)

  7. Ela
    May 15, 2011

    I read Moon Tiger in my twenties, I think (possibly even later than that), so I was never inspired by Claudia, though I do like that she’s so much her own woman. The book did also make me wonder how she might have been different if Tom had lived.

  8. Pingback: Iris & Ruby by Rosie Thomas « Vulpes Libris

  9. Pingback: Hard-To-Like Heroines: Moon Tiger’s Claudia Hampson |

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This entry was posted on May 9, 2011 by in Entries by Nikki and tagged , , , .



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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