A year of reading women

365 days of women's lit

Posts Tagged ‘literary prizes

Téa Obreht: The Tiger’s Wife

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I really wanted to like this book. When I heard that its 25-year-old author had scooped the Orange Prize, I found my inevitable flash of envy quickly extinguished by a tsunami of admiration for a brave decision on the part of the jury and hope that here at last was an indication that the great and the good of the literary world might be budging up to make room for some new talent. Please be good, please be good, I willed the coiling circle as I watched  it spiral the text down out of the ether on to my Kindle. Please let me enjoy it!

I got part of my wish: The Tiger’s Wife was good. It was very well done. But did I enjoy it? Did I, hell.

The reason for this boils down to two words: ‘magical realism’ (or ‘fabulism’, if you prefer). Call it what you will, I can’t stand the stuff. In fact, it’s been the thorn in the side of my reading career ever since I fumbled Nights at the Circus down off the bookshop shelf aged 12 or thereabouts. Give me any book that trades off blending elements of the enchanted with the ‘real’ world and it’s as though some sort of reverse magic is in play as far as I’m concerned, transforming books that are hailed as masterpieces into dull exercises in creating something out of very little before my very eyes.

At the touch of my bewitched fingers, the greatest works in the fabulist canon wither into tedium. Midnight’s Children? Abracadabra: four hundred and fifty pages about a man with a blocked nose.  One hundred years of solitude? Loved the image of the galleon encrusted with orchids, but — Kaboom! — as far as the rest went, about six months of solitude would have covered it for me (the same doesn’t go for Marquez’s extraordinary autobiography, Living to tell the tale, by the way, which I will love until I die).

What makes it worse is that it’s not even as though I can have the satisfaction of thinking that the writing is bad. I can see that it isn’t. I can recognise Marquez’s masterful lyricism, Carter’s eye for the fantastic and Winterson’s way with the grotesque. In the case of The Tiger’s Wife, which (just in case you thought this post might give you some idea of what the book is actually about) follows a young female doctor as she pieces together the strange myths surrounding her grandfather’s life and death in some unspecified Slavic country, I can admire the neat plotting and the way the threads cross and complement each other. I can even — and here’s the real curveball — salute the way Obreht strikes up suspense and tension, reeling the reader on, without feeling the slightest desire to turn the page.

I know there are plenty of people who would disagree with me though. And I’m game to be converted, so if you know of some magical realist gems that might break the spell (preferably stories by girls if you want me to look at them before 2012), I’d be delighted to hear about them.

As far as The Tiger’s Wife goes, though, if you like magical realism, go knock yourself out with it. If you don’t, I doubt Obreht will change your mind.

Picture by WGyuri

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Written by Ann Morgan

July 6, 2011 at 9:23 am