Nadine Millar's Reviews > The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
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Oct 25, 11

bookshelves: i-own-it, i-want-my-time-back, one-star-wonders
Read in October, 2011

Thank goodness for other reviewers with more patience than me - I was able to understand more about the book in an hour browsing the discussion/review pages on Goodreads than 3 weeks wrestling with the Tiger. After checking others views on the book to make sure it wasn't entirely my fault that the Tiger and I didn't bond, here's the criticisms I still maintain:

And using bullet points, because I love 'em:

- The fables: It's not that I can't do magical realism, I absolutely can. Marquez; Allende; Esquivel; Saramago; Yes please, serve me up. It's not even that 'The Deathless Man' and 'The Tiger's Wife' are empty stories - the opposite in fact. The problem is a) the stilted nature in which the fables are told b) the link between the two central fables being so precarious as to be utterly unconvincing - is it magic realism or isn't it? I don't think Obreht can decide and c) the fables are buried, to the extent that you feel as though they are being deliberately concealed from you, in a mountain of pointless (though A+) descriptions about inanimate objects (I'll get to that later, it deserves its own bullet point).

- Boredom: Other brave reviewers have already said it; even ones who have been so generous as to still dole out 3 and 4 stars. And that is that it all feels a bit pointless. What's the story actually about? What am I left with (apart from a headache?). If you ask me in two weeks I flat out just won't know.

- "A lack of emotion": (That's actually a quote from the The Guardian's review). Lets use some concrete examples. Natalia and Zora? Their friendship, apparently as old as they are, has about as much depth to it as puddle of water. Why wouldn't Natalia share the news of her Grandfather's death with her so-called "best friend"? What life experiences had they been through that made them the kind of kids that get kicks out of dissecting, in fairly gruesome circumstances, pigs hearts? Not your average teenage girls, surely - but we wouldn't know because Natalia tells us nothing about what makes her tick (let alone the elusive chain-smoking Zora). And Natalia's Grandfather, arguably the most important character in the book - why are there great gaping holes in what we know about his life? We have such incredible (read "bbbooooring") detail surrounding Luka, his mother, his brothers, his father, his musical aspirations, his ten year sabbatical and tragic love songs that aren't even borne out of his own experiences, and for what? I think it is supposed to explain why he ultimately turned into a henous wife-beating monster. Er, sorry, no - it doesn't actually. Just as all the inane detail (pages and pages) about Darisa The Bear's childhood and how it shaped him in becoming a hunter of such great repute in later life - I still fail to see how any of this early detail was relevant to the whole of the story. Or maybe there was no point, and that is the point - "we're just telling stories". Oh, Ok!! But, just so you know, it's freaking boring! In my view, the balance of power in this novel is held by the wrong characters - the depth is given to stories that frankly don't deserve it, while complete superficiality (at best) is all that is afforded to the stories that actually matter.

- The long, long-winded descriptions: Yes, Obreht can write. If this is an exercise in cramming adjectives into sentences (or WOW words, as we call them in Year 2), yep, she succeeded. And she's 25, the youngest ever Orange Prize winner. Ok, I get it, she's talented! But what use is this without a real life actual story to tell? (see above). Primarily, Obreht's talent is directed towards describing places, objects, and events, (without emotion, as I said before) in the kind of detail only God would notice. And THAT there is probably my main criticism of the book - because remember, we're dealing with a first person narrative. I'm sorry, but a person does not walk into a room and take notice of the way a painting sits half an inch to the left on a wall covered in a fine film of whoknowswhat while some animal scratches beneath the heavy brown floor boards, the ones with the rusty nails protruding out of them threateningly. Here's an example (much better than mine, naturally).

"The street below dead-ended in a flattened patch of pale grass, bordered on either side by netless goal frames. A slide and some tire swings had been set up on the lip of a wheat field that caught the afternoon light and held it in a shivering glare. Beyond that lay the graveyard, white crosses turned out toward the sea. The wind had subsided, and the road was deserted except for a single motted goat, tethered to the fence post of what looked like an enormous metal box opposite the clinic. The BEER sign braced against an oil drum under the awning was to be believed, this was the bar".

Well written? Yes. Riveting? No. Even more implausibly, the vast majority of the time Natalia is recalling this detail based on what she has heard second, third, even fourth hand - or from her grandfather eons earlier. Even if I am to suppose Natalia has some super-human memory that allows her to recall all these minor threads in minute detail, I can't get past the idea that anyone walks around (doing nothing, going nowhere) "thinking" to themselves this way. I admit plenty of excellent books combine first person narrative with contextual descriptions of scene or atmosophere (I just finished When God Was a Rabbit - perfect example of the right balance) - but it's usually very subtle. Broken up with dialogue, events, oooh, I don't know - something actually happening once in a while. But Obreht's descriptive passages can go on for pages and pages and none of it adds anything at all to the PLOT (it's not an evil word people). It reminded me of reading a police report, or court transcript. A flowery one, to be sure, but that is the kind mundane observations and recollection of events that you're wading through. I needed more action, more convincing dialogue. Natalia was a person herself without a story, without a VOICE of her own; how ironic is that, being that it's a story about stories. And then when Natalia gets on to recounting what she's been able to glean from the memories of the villagers still living today, and also from her Grandfather based on what he told her before he died, that's when my raised eyebrow really begins to hurt. It's woolly and impossible to tether.

- And then there's the grating fact that it's devoid of place. The country, the city, the warring factions, all nameless. Why? Why? Why?

I probably didn't need to write such a long review. Goodness knows I already want the last three weeks of precious book reading time back. I could have just said "when you have to go to Goodreads and read several other reviews to work out what the book was really saying, there's a problem".
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 56) (56 new)


message 1: by Dana (new) - rated it 1 star

Dana Booth Thank you for putting into words what I couldn't. You nailed it on every point. I wish I'd given up on this book after the first 50 pages, but I was intrigued by the fables. Ultimately, the whole thing was confusing and disappointing. What was the point of the book???? Who knows.


Nadine Millar thanks for the feedback! At our bookclub meeting someone defended the Tiger rather well, suggesting that we'd overlooked the significance of the final pages where it is evident that the deathless man has learnt some lessons in life (and death) and where the grandfather makes his peace with him. Full of irony, regret, reflection etc and so on. I maintain though that it's no good being so clever about your message if you lost your audience 200 pages back...!


Mari Anne Thanks for justifying my absolute lack of interest in this book. It always puzzles and disappoints me these highly lauded and award winning books turn out to be so boring or sometimes, flat out unreadable. I am glad to see I am not alone.


Dale Good to know it's not just me! And shame on the NYtimes for naming it one of the top five fiction titles of the year.


Caroline thanks for your review...can I cut & paste it as my own? haha! kidding, but you are right on. I also tired of the overly descriptive sentences and cramming as many adjectives into a sentence as possible. Can't someone just walk down a street anymore these days??!

Anyway, just wanted to commend you on your accurate review.


message 6: by Bee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bee I enjoyed aspects of the book, lets face it, Tea can write! But sad, sad, sad. So much pain, where was the hope she talks about? Why so much violence, especially between Luka and his wife? And the hardest thing was the lack of information about how the tiger's wife died. What happened? We have so much information about things and then nothing about the wife or the sick little girl or even Natalia's homecoming to grandma/mum. A strange juxtaposition of heavy description and glaring omissions.


Karen I so agree with you. It seemed like the author couldn't quite decide the direction of this book, I spent the whole time thinking what is the actual storyline here that I'm meant to be following? Quite an anticlimax when getting to the end.


Katie Good review! I just did not like this book and your points are exactly why.


Emily Moore I could not get past the 3rd chapter. I had to put it down. I had no idea what was going on or what the point was.


Hurricanecelia I couldn't agree with you more. I don't understand why the ratings are so high unless she had a lot of friends and family rate her book.


Nadine Millar Thanks for all the feedback!

This is how The Tiger's Wife was reviewed by the New Zealand Listener in the end of year round up "Best Books of 2011" (lets not talk about the fact that it was included in the list in the first place).

"Any way you read it..." [translation: I was forced to read it for this goddam annual review section] "...this magic-realist exploration of the deep roots and lingering legacy of war is an impressive debut..." [Translation: "It won some awards"] "...It wins you over not simply with its story but with the manner of its telling, a hypnotic assemblage of myths..." [Translation: I kept falling asleep] "...and fables, fairy tales and legends, curious characters and imagery" [Translation: it has no idea what it wants to be].

Why can't a reviewer just call a lemon a lemon?


message 12: by Bee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bee Hahahaha! Well, the literati in NZ are a bit like that, actually they're probably like that everywhere. All so busy in each others pockets and trying to say that because they can see the Emperor's new clothes then so should everyone else.
Have you read "The Reader's Manifesto"? It puts some context around reviewers etc.


Nadine Millar Just put it on my to-read shelf! :)


message 14: by Bee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bee You're from Wgtn? Lived there until I was 28 but I'm in Palmerston Nth now.


message 15: by Diane (new) - rated it 1 star

Diane So Glad I wasn't the only one that was bewildered by the popularity of this book. I tried my hardest, read the first third of the book and finally gave up. We have our book group discussion next week. I hope to find out what I "missed".


Hurricanecelia This was the worst book I have read in a long time. I made the mistake of finishing it.


Diane C. T. Coreghassan Boyle gave this book a glowing review "towering new talent". I think someone saw cute little blonde Tea at a writer's conference and has a little lust crush.

Boring book!


message 18: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Nadine- Your review was brilliant, funny & helpful. Will you please join our book group in so. California?


Nadine Millar Deborah wrote: "Nadine- Your review was brilliant, funny & helpful. Will you please join our book group in so. California?"

Hi Deborah. I'd love to join your book club! Does it matter that I am in Abu Dhabi?!


message 20: by MountainShelby (new)

MountainShelby This is exactly what drives me nuts about overhyped contemporary lit--lots of pretty writing and very little to say. Give me an author who has lived a life and then tells it straight. Or one who has lived a life and uses details with skill and sound choice.


Margaret You summed up ALL of my complaints about this book! For all it's exquisite detail, I also have NO idea what the story is about and couldn't get past the nameless places -- she assumes a familiarity that is just never explained unless you are "in the know." I had this book for two months and couldn't get more than a third of the way in.


message 22: by Lectus (last edited Aug 17, 2012 06:38AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Lectus Excellent points! I should just copy your review into mine lol!

Oh but you endured to finish it!


Leslie Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for taking the time to describe my thoughts so eloquently.


Nadine Millar Thanks again for your comments - did we notice that this year's Orange winner was another debut? Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles thankfully restored my faith in the prize. She can write, AND she can tell a story - who would've thought! Well done judges, you got it right this year :)


message 25: by Zeynep (new)

Zeynep Karaburçak Thanks Nadine and all the others ! Having read all the comments so far , I know why I did not like the book . It is also good to know that I can be optimistic for the next Orange Price .


Nadine Millar Caroline wrote: "thanks for your review...can I cut & paste it as my own? haha! kidding, but you are right on. I also tired of the overly descriptive sentences and cramming as many adjectives into a sentence as pos..." Cut and Paste away!! Thank you!


Michael Pfyl Your review is dead on and I'm grateful you took the time to post it. I'm 150 pages in to this boring, slow montage of random stories and emotionless descriptions and this review has given me the conviction to put this book aside and stop wasting my time!


Nadine Millar Michael wrote: "Your review is dead on and I'm grateful you took the time to post it. I'm 150 pages in to this boring, slow montage of random stories and emotionless descriptions and this review has given me the..."

Thanks! Definitely harbour no guilt at ditching the Tiger, it's officially on my "I want my time back shelf"....


Julie Maginn Wow, what a fantastic review. You have captured my thoughts without me thinking them!!! I am now however beginning to enjoy the read even though I am not expecting the end to leave me begging for more.(p273)


Nadine Millar Julie wrote: "Wow, what a fantastic review. You have captured my thoughts without me thinking them!!! I am now however beginning to enjoy the read even though I am not expecting the end to leave me begging for m..." Thanks Julie.. sometimes when I look back on the review I'm surprised at how long I spent grumbling about it, man I was angry!


message 31: by Gina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gina Freeman Woah I've just started this and I too have just read 'When God was a rabbit'....I've been asked to read this for Feb book group and am persevering ....


Nadine Millar Gina wrote: "Woah I've just started this and I too have just read 'When God was a rabbit'....I've been asked to read this for Feb book group and am persevering ...." Well don't let this little group put you off - I have a friend who didn't enjoy the first half at all but felt that the book redeemed itself on the final stretch. But as I think I said elsewhere, The Tiger left its run far too late for me I'm afraid.... :)


message 33: by Jan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jan Yep. It was an effort to read it, and it wasn't rewarding. And please, who was the Mora? I couldn't work it out!!!


Nadine Millar Jan wrote: "And please, who was the Mora? I couldn't work it out!!!" Oh gosh, wish I could help you...


Bookhuw Hi Nadine. Just to broach your final bullet-point, the reasoning for the lack of place names seemed apparent enough to me. Had Obreht anchored her writing by naming particular people and places, people's own opinions about the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s could have clouded how they responded to the book. Natalia and her father were, as I read it, clearly Serbs, but in the context of this story who sinned against who was not important, rather that the war dislocated everyone from what they once knew.


Heather You said everything I have been thinking while plodding through this book. I'm not sure why I have continued, I guess because I don't like to leave things unfinished. I only have 60 pages left, but wow is it painful.


message 37: by Nadine (last edited Jan 30, 2013 04:09AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nadine Millar Bookhuw wrote: "Hi Nadine. Just to broach your final bullet-point, the reasoning for the lack of place names seemed apparent enough to me. Had Obreht anchored her writing by naming particular people and places, pe..." Hi Bookhuw, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes, I recognise that in stripping the characters of any identifying geographic or historical markers Obreht was free to explore the effects of war as a general, as opposed to specific, thing. But in a way I felt like this lacked courage, and moreover faith in readers in general. It's not about taking sides, or making political statements (although I recognise that some people cannot separate the two - Palestinian fiction in particular comes to mind). Rather, it's about validating the experience of one, in order to illuminate the experience of many. War may have general outcomes, but it is lived at the micro level by individuals; families. So for me, the lack of specifics in the Tiger impeded my ability to really empathise with the characters.

That is of course my personal opinion, and I know there are holes in it. As much as anything, because I had to defend these arguments at bookclub and it was far from an open and shut case!)


message 38: by Mikefoley (new)

Mikefoley Diane C. wrote: "T. Coreghassan Boyle gave this book a glowing review "towering new talent". I think someone saw cute little blonde Tea at a writer's conference and has a little lust crush.

Boring book!"


If you think Tea is cute or little or blonde you have yet to meet her and worst of all, you have a pretty shite reason for hating on his review. Hating a pretty woman's achievement is pretty low, but hating on a woman who you SUSPECT is pretty is even worse.


Bruna Araujo I agree! The book was boring and flat. I was not interested in the main Character and I could not care less about about the story or grandfather etc. the truth is that I didn't know anyone, and felt disconnected! If a character died. I wouldn't care! To be honest, this book isn't that great and I had to put it down. Since it was making me go to sleep.


Original Billith I've been trying to get through this and am having a hell of a time doing so. And then I read this and am glad I'm not alone!


Michele Thank you for writing this review. I thought I was an idiot for not seeing why other reviewers thought this book was so wonderful. I'm annoyed that I wasted my time reading the entire book!!


Caroline wow I couldn't have said it better! I really disliked this book and quickly wanted to stop, but it was picked by my book club. you're correct, I needed to read reviews to somewhat get it. gosh, I wish this was my review!


message 43: by Beth (new) - added it

Beth Simmons Wish I'd seen your review before I bought this on Audible. Especially confusing in unbearable in audio form. I quit it and I NEVER like doing that.


message 44: by Nadine (last edited Apr 01, 2013 08:07PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nadine Millar Caroline wrote: "wow I couldn't have said it better! I really disliked this book and quickly wanted to stop, but it was picked by my book club. you're correct, I needed to read reviews to somewhat get it. gosh, I w..."ahh shucks thank you

Michele wrote: "Thank you for writing this review. I thought I was an idiot for not seeing why other reviewers thought this book was so wonderful. I'm annoyed that I wasted my time reading the entire book!!" you're welcome!

Bruna wrote: "I agree! The book was boring and flat. I was not interested in the main Character and I could not care less about about the story or grandfather etc. the truth is that I didn't know anyone, and fel..." I agree, I also did not feel connected to the main characters, they didn't feel like real people to me

Beth wrote: "Wish I'd seen your review before I bought this on Audible. Especially confusing in unbearable in audio form. I quit it and I NEVER like doing that."
Oh my gosh! I can't imagine this in audiobook...! The only genre I feel works in audio is the memoir, and usually then only when narrated by the author...!


Heather Totally my thoughts on the book! Well said!


message 46: by Meg (new) - rated it 1 star

Meg Thank you for articulating every aspect I struggled with in completing this book. I liked your review more than the book itself.


Jessie Jellick Thankyou for articulating so beautifully the many difficulties I also felt with this book! I have written my own review of it but I couldn't grasp all the threads together as nicely as you have done. It's nice to read a review and think...'yes!' each time there is a new point made. I just wanted to add here the most nit-picking part of my review but one I thought might give you a small 'yes' moment and maybe a smile if you remember it? It is....how many times can someone describe something as 'shivering'. Ha ha, she had used it quite a bit within 100 or so pages of the book and then I noticed it was in the part that you quoted too! Oh dear.


message 48: by Nancy (new)

Nancy  W'f You said it all, and much better than I ever could! Thanks!


Cherop You've said it much better than I could.


message 50: by Gail (new) - added it

Gail I was blaming my frustration over getting through this book on the fact that I had so many distractions in my own life. I started it about two years ago and finished last night. The book traveled many miles. It is certainly not easy to read then put aside to resume reading later. I would re-read trying to sort out the characters and stories. Reading these reviews has eased the guilt I felt about forcing myself to finish while still being unable to appreciate and enjoy the award-winning novel. The stories and fables make more sense after reading some of the summaries. The writing was not bad, but I was bogged down in the details and all the back and forth of the various stories. I enjoyed reading other books these past months before forcing myself to pick it up one more time. I finished, but not wanting for more.


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