It's been a while since I've done a Teaser Tuesday post. They tend to be hit or miss with me of late--sometimes I will manage to finish the book promptly and then sometimes . . . I look back at my teaser posts and wonder--"what happened with this one?". Distracted by other books is usually the case. But when I am just starting a book these teasers are a nice, quick way into the story. So a teaser as much for me as for you.
Raise your hand if you've read Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger. She won the Booker Prize for it in 1987, so it must be a notch above the rest, but mostly it has an appealing story for me. I have heard from more than one reader that this is an exceptional read. And I know already that I like her writing as I adored her memoir Oleander Jacaranda when I read it several years back. Lively was born in Cairo and spent her childhood there. I know this novel is at least partly set there during WWII. I've set small, measurable goals for myself with this one. It has long been one of those books that I 'mean to read' and have picked up countless times and then set back down. Now is the moment. It is a slender novel (which I think in this case does not necessarily mean easy reading, though I already can tell the story will be quite engaging) which I plan to read and finish in June. If I split it into quarters I can read about 50 manageable pages a week.
The story begins with Claudia Hampton lying on a hospital bed thinking over her long life. "I'm writing a history of the world" she says and the nurses all wonder if "she was someone". Certainly she has lived a long and eventful life. I can already tell I like Claudia's voice, which is quite unapologetic and not a little irreverent. I can already tell this is a woman who lives by her own rules and thinking back over her long life the memories are going to come in fits and starts as she cobbles together her own history--not told linearly but rather in a kaleidoscopic fashion. "I am composed of a myriad Claudias who spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water. The pack of cards I carry around is forever shuffled and re-shuffled; there is no sequence, everything happens at once."
Claudia is well chosen to tell a history of the world, or of her world in any case, since she is by training and education an historian. This is just one taste of Claudia's voice that makes me feel very akin to her.
"I know quite well why I became a historian. Quasi-historian, as one of my enemies put it, some desiccated don too frightened of the water to put a toe out of his Oxford college. It was because dissension was frowned upon when I was a child: 'Don't argue, Claudia', 'Claudia you must not answer back like that.' Argument, of course, is the whole point of history. Disagreement; my word against yours; this evidence against that. If there were such a thing as absolute truth the debate would lose its lustre. I, for one, would no longer be interested. I well remember the moment at which I discovered that history was no a matter of received opinion."
And she goes on to tell a story about her girlhood at Miss Lavenham's Academy of Girls when she was thirteen and posed a series of questions to her History instructor not composed of requests for dates and places (acceptable questions). Miss Lavenham responds with "Just put down what is on the board. Make your headings nice and clear in red ink . . ."
"And suddenly for me the uniform grey pond of history is rent; it is fractured into a thousand contending waves; I hear the babble of voices. I put my pen down and ponder; my headings are not nice and clear in red ink; I get 38% (Fail) in the end of the term exams."
A woman who even as a girl uses her brain, and so a woman after my own heart. She's not exactly prickly, but she is going to question and not take for granted. I liked her the moment I met her on the page.