The Tiger's Wife: A Novel by Téa Obreht
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Despite the fact that this book did everything "wrong" in terms of what normally annoys me, it didn't annoy me. To quote a man whose name shall be unrevealed since I am ashamed to admit I know quotes of his: "If loving you is wrong, I don't wanna be right."*
Let me explain.
Obreht uses lengthy character descriptions. Lengthy as in chapter-long ones. Chapters that derail completely, utterly, shamelessly from the main story. So much, in fact, that it is difficult to remember what the main story is. It is difficult to know if the main story is the main story. Much alike a reader taking time in a limited book review of a very brilliant book to talk about something else entirely, like 80s pop music.
And yet, I find that I am not derailed. I find that each story weaved into the others - even the really obscure ones - make sense. They intrigue me. And instead of putting the book down in anger when I reach a crossroads and find myself transported 50 years back in time; when I'm not sure if the ambiguous term "the war" means the first or second world war, the war in Yugoslavia, or other wars still; or when I have no idea why the narrator in the important grandfather sequences sometimes is the main character Natalia, and sometimes the (dead) grandfather (in flashbacks) - instead of putting the book down I kept reading, eager to learn what would happen in this new (or continued) strand of the story.
Finally, I should have been annoyed with Obreht's extensive use of magical realism, drawing heavily on local lore in the Balkans. (If anyone is curious just how annoyed I normally would be at magical realism, it is possible to find out here.)
Anyway. No. It didn't annoy me. And not just because the good sides of the novel outweighed the bad. Because there were plenty of good sides too. Such as excellent writing. Beautiful language. An emotional backdrop (I'm a sucker for war, in books). Interesting characters. Lots of history, neatly tucked in without feeling forced.
In the end, the reason the good sides didn't outweigh the bad ones was that the things I'd normally put onto the "bad" side of the scale weren't bad. Obreht managed to handle several complex and advised-against tools and techniques in such a fashion that I didn't hate it. I didn't even dislike it. I think I actually might approve.
(*For the record, I'm not really ashamed now that a quick Google-search revealed that this song is an old classic, made famous by Luther Ingram. I'll just refrain from telling you that the version I'm familiar with is Rod Stewart's. Oops.**)
((** Oh, who am I kidding? Rod Stewart, I <3 you! ))
(((And no, this novel has absolutely nothing to do with that song.)))
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