Huw Rhys's Reviews > The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
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Sep 20, 2011

it was ok
Read from September 02 to 20, 2011

Yes, good question - what do I think of this book?

Let me say I've thought a lot about it - mainly, because I was desperate to understand it. I think I've got a vague idea of what was going on here - but I also suspect that the majority of it either a. went way above my head or b. like the recently acquired vestments of the Empress' husband, there really is very little substance here in reality.

Set in a Central European environment (never actually stated that it's in the old Yugoslavia, but it was the one part of the book where the clues were given clearly enough!),it's the story of a young female doctor telling us about the stories her grandfather told her. The whole book is beautifully written - the prose flows easily, almost lyrically - but it actually says very little as far as I can see.

I'm a big fan of this sort of "Magical Metaphor" book - but I just didn't get this one, I'm afraid. There is a lot about death here, there is a lot about animal symbolism/ the humanization of animals and the animalization of humans, and then there are a lot of short, vaguely connected anecdotes.

It might be about war, the suddenness yet inevitability of death, and the dehumanization that this all brings - without actually stating the facts.

But that's my biggest problem with this book - it just leaves far too much to the imagination. The sentences are half said, the anecdotes are half told, and the messages are half hidden.

The biggest clues of all came possibly in the last two or three pages of the book - the acknowledgements page, and the dust jacket blurb on the author. Even the thanks to her friends and mentors took place in half formed sentences. Maybe the individual recipients understood the context and could put the bits unsaid into the narrative. But to those of us not "in the know", it looked like half formed bits of gibberish.

Then we find out that the author had only been speaking English for the best part of a decade when she wrote this book - maybe there is a real communication issue here? Finally, we find out that she is still only in her mid Twenties - I wonder whether she actually has the life experience to be able to take on some of the themes she attempts to get at here?

Nevertheless, it had its moments of magic, it had its flashes of insight onto the human condition. As I say, it was generally quite well written, so there parts of it that were easy on the eye. But I wonder if too much was left unsaid, too much of the substance of the novel either ignored or taken for grants, for this book to have made the impact that it potentially might have?

I won't give up on this author, but I'm afraid that this book, as a whole, just didn't hit home with me.
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