The Tiger's Wife is one of those novels you pick up because you simply have to; its author was part of The New Yorker 's 20 under 40 selection, the no...moreThe Tiger's Wife is one of those novels you pick up because you simply have to; its author was part of The New Yorker 's 20 under 40 selection, the novel has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize (among other things) and it's been positively reviewed almost everywhere. You start reading it and can't really seem to understand what the fuss is all about... until, at some point, you're not quite sure when or how this brilliant author's done it, but you're hooked and you want more.
I'll admit that, as it is often the case with novels I end up thoroughly enjoying, its main theme, the one that drives the present-day narration, hit home. Though circumstances never allowed me to grow up knowing my grandfather as well as the main character does hers, I knew him enough to regret that he no longer is a part of my life fours years after his death; this man of the past, this connection to my mother's culture, language and country, one that no longer exists as it was, except in memories; this remarkable man who was also a doctor and who refused to flee his country even when it was in deep political turmoil. I too have always wanted to know more about this almost mythical grandfather, his childhood, his trips to Africa and France where he met my grandmother, his dreams and if all of them had come true, his fears, the best years of his life as it seems I was only there for his death. I too knew that he was ill and had been dying for a long time.
However, The Tiger's Wife cannot solely be reduced to its theme. Its form and structure are equally important and here all readers of folk tales and mythology will find themselves on familiar ground and enjoy the multiple story-lines and how they nicely tie in with another at the end. Though the novel never properly falls into magic realism, it comes very close to it.
The Tiger's Wife is as much a story about History as it is about stories and the power of storytelling. Its History, though never clearly stated, is that of Yugoslavia and the many wars that led to its divisions. The novel's towns and villages cannot be found on maps and, as such, might as well be imaginary. It's just as well, a too strong historical background might have required too much explanation and ended it up drowning the rest of the narration(s).
Its stories are that of the Deathless Man, the Tiger's Wife and how they defined and shaped the main character's grandfather. But they are also the stories the grandfather did not know, that of Luka the butcher, Galina's blacksmith and Darisa the bear. I found these stories to be more engaging than the present-day storyline, but they also echo with it and give it a strength it may not otherwise have possessed. Throughout these stories, the main protagonist hints at the research and people she's had to interview to unearth these tales from the past. Nevertheless, the narrator (and the reader) is well aware that these tales cannot possibly be entirely true; some have been twisted, others embellished or truncated. But isn't that what folk tales are? Collective stories that live on in the minds of entire populations? Isn't there some kind of truth to these collective retellings and reinterpretations? In a way, what we take out of folk tales reveals more about our nature than the story itself.
Some have criticized the novel's structure and how it gives too much space to these past and parallel subplots at the risk of drowning the main narration. I think those who agree with this have missed the point of the novel. The Tiger's Wife is about these 'subplots' (for lack of a better word but they're more than that) and about how these folktales and the magic they hold shape our lives and our understanding of the world. Perhaps, their inclusion is a bit too neat and systematic, but I've never found them to be dispensable. In the end, they confer this story which has no date, or place, its universality. The Tiger's Wife is a refreshing and magical debut from an author that we should all keep an eye on.(less)
Though I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and con...moreThough I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and considering the extent to which I was blown away, I can easily affirm that it won't be the last!
This short tale is part literary criticism and part feminist manifesto, but very little of it is actually a novel in the traditional definition of the genre. There is a story, a main character, a set of secondary characters more or less developed, there is an intrigue, though admittedly, not much goes on in terms of action. This is definitely a cerebral novel if such a thing exists. It's a bowl of fresh air, one that I will gladly re-read in a few years time and take notes next time.
Though this is not the first time this has happened, I am always amazed when an author manages to make his readers identify with a character who is miles away from them. Mia Fredricksen and I have a very little in common and yet, I understood and felt all that she was going through and took pleasure in following her progression throughout this summer without men. A pleasure owed to the author's talent.
There are so many parts I wish I'd bookmarked so that I could quote here to give you a feel of this peculiar novel. Here's one:
"It is not that there is no difference between men and women; it is how much difference that difference makes, and how we choose to frame it. Every era has had its science of difference and sameness, its biology, its ideology, and its ideological biology, which brings us, at last, back to the naughty girls, their escapades, and the instruments of darkness. We have several contemporary instruments of darkness to choose from, all reductive, all easy. Shall we explain it through the very special, although dubious otherness of the female brain or through genes evolved from those "cave women gathering food near the home" thousands of years ago or through the dangerous hormonal surges of puberty or through nefarious social learning that channels aggressive, angry impulses in girls underground?"
As you can see, the novel's intrigue serves as an overall reflection on women, their position and perception in society. Here, Mia's poetry teenage students have pulled a nasty little prank on one of the class' members. These are questions that I often ask myself, to what extent are our action our truly our own or socially-constructed?
The book is not out yet but there are already a few mixed reviews online, proof that every reading experience is different and resonates in a specific way with its reader. For me, this pushed all the right buttons.(less)
I can say in all certainty that I've never read anything like this book before. It's filled with very original ideas to say the least. And the author'...moreI can say in all certainty that I've never read anything like this book before. It's filled with very original ideas to say the least. And the author's style is very specific to herself and to the world she's created. This makes for a challenging, refreshing and surprising read. I can definitely see how this book illustrates the New Weird movement; a movement I have shied away from ever since my disastrous encounter with China Mieville and Iron Council (for those of you who don't remember, I read about 200 pages of Iron Council, I tried, I really did but I couldn't finsh the book. It's probably the only book that I couldn't finish).
My problem with Mieville's world and I extend it to most of the works of the NW, is that I'm a character reader. If you don't give me good solid characterization, I'm going to struggle through the story no matter how enchanting your world building may be and well, if your main character is your world, that might turn out to be a problem for me. Valente's main character happens to be a city but the city is also clearly marked by its inhabitant and as far as characterization goes, Valente has nothing to envy Hal Duncan, Sarah Rees Brennan, George R.R. Martin and some of the best that are out there.
Valente combines Jeff Vandermeer's talent for weird and enchanting world building and Jacqueline Carey's sensual and flourishing style. Why no French publisher has yet decided to publish this author is beyond me!
If the initial pages are a bit arduous (I really struggled at first, I was a bit lost), as soon as characters entered the picture and I got used the author's style, I no longer felt out of my depth. I really started enjoying the text and realized the full extent of the richness of her creation.
To sum up: this is some very impressive stuff once you get the gist of it.
I'll admit that each time Valente drew back from her characters and went back to the city and mentioned some random things, my interest and attention diminished and I really felt like skipping those parts (which were minor in comparison to the overall story). This is probably a very subjective criticism as it really depends on what kind of reader you are and what you are looking for. I know that no matter how bizarre and twisted the world the author wants to take me in is no problem as long as I have characters to anchor me within the story and relate to. Perhaps most readers don't require this.
Anyway, this was an immensely satisfying read that I can highly recommend. I especially think that Shannon and Katryn should give this author a try.
We have the Valente's Orphan Tales series at the agency so I'll be sure to pick them up and read them. In the meantime, I really hope that a French publisher will want to publish them because this author really has a distinctive voice and develops the most original of ideas.(less)