Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

This Friday, June 3, at 10:30 a.m. the morning book group will discuss Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger, which won the Booker Prize in 1987. The novel's heroine is a former war correspondent and popular historian lying on her deathbed and recollecting scenes from her unconventional life, thinking of how her "history of the world" would have been written. We slowly learn more about Claudia's true love, a tank commander in Cairo during World War II, over the course of Moon Tiger.

The Guardian has as four-part series on Moon Tiger here, including an interview with the author.

Discussion Questions:

1. Just as there was a photograph in Lively's 1993 novel, The Photograph there is one in Moon Tiger, a 19th century photograph that Claudia owns. Anne Tyler quotes the passage in her review for the New York Times:
There is a grocer's shop and a blacksmith's and a stationary cart and a great spreading tree, but not a single human figure. In fact William Smith - or someone, or several people, dogs too, geese, a man on a horse - passed beneath the tree, went into the grocer's shop, loitered for a moment talking to a friend while the photograph was taken but he is invisible, all of them are invisible. The exposure of the photograph - sixty minutes - was so long that William Smith and everyone else passed through it and away leaving no trace.

What other passages talk about time and our concept of it in Moon Tiger? How is Cairo in 1942 a good setting for a story with a lack of chronology, like Moon Tiger?

2. What did you make of the relationship between Claudia and her brother Gordon? Between her and her daughter Lisa?

3. Do you think Claudia's life would have been different if Tom had lived? How?

4. The history of the world that Claudia is "writing" focuses on details and the experiences of individuals. Would you prefer a more objective overview of events? Why or why not?

5. Out of the 3 novels we've read that were set in Egypt, which is your favorite: Dreamers of the Day, The English Patient, or Moon Tiger?

6. What is unconventional about the way Moon Tiger is written?

7. In your mind, when a part of the narrative is being retold, who is telling it? Is Claudia imagining it?

8. Are there any links between your personal history and the greater history of the world? For example, Claudia says "I have Tito to thank for Jasper . . "

9. Claudia says "Fiction can seem more enduring than reality" (page 6 of the paperback edition). What does she mean? Do you agree?

10. What does the title of the book refer to? Why might Penelope Lively have chosen it for the title?

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