We first came across The Tiger’s Wife as a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime – where books are cut to fit 15 minute slots, during which we often fall asleep.
When our American niece offered us a copy that she couldn’t finish, and remembering the BBC reading, we decided to try it. My wife then also gave up on the book! Not too good so far. I am interested in magic realism to some extent – I enjoyed Love in the Time of Cholera, and Louis de Bernières’ South American trilogy – though that got a bit extreme for my taste, and I do balk at some aspects of the genre.
Because The Tiger’s Wife treats the magical elements as aspects of Balkan myths and legends, they are not as intrusive or absurd as in some novels. They focus on the theme of death – as, from my memory each links back to the death of the narrator’s grandfather. The book touches on aspects of the racial conflicts that have been the cause of wars recently in the Balkans, and is set after them. Ongoing allusions to Shere Khan in The Jungle Book cast some light on the use of the tiger as an image or leitmotiv.
There is a vast canvas in this book – a range of interesting characters and myths, and fitting them together is not so easy. The symbolism is deliberately vague and meaning enigmatic, suggestive not explicit – something that can be charming, but is also a bit annoying. Obreht writes beautifully; I suppose a re-reading might help make it clearer how the different bits fit together, but I am not inspired to do that.
The tiger is omnipresent – both beautiful and disturbing. Death pervades everything. Not too cheerful then!