Saturday, 1 December 2012

Review: Tigers in Red Weather, Liza Klaussmann

Tigers In Red Weather

Liza Klaussmann

Picador, 2012

The epitome of East Coast glamour, Tiger House is where the beautiful and the damned have always come to play in summer, scene of martinis and moonlit conspiracies, and newly inherited by the sleek, beguiling Nick. The Second World War is just ending, Nick’s cousin Helena has left her in search of married bliss in Hollywood, and Nick’s husband is coming home. Everything is about to change. Their children will surprise them. A decade later, on the cusp of adolescence, Nick’s daughter and Helena’s son make a sinister discovery that plunges the island’s bright heat into private shadow. Summer seemed to arrive at that moment, with its mysterious mixture of salt, cold flesh and fuel. Magnificently told by each of the five characters in turn, Tigers in Red Weather is a simmering novel of passion, betrayal and secret violence beneath a polished and fragile facade.

Sometimes a line or two in a book just grabs me. There's a line not long into Tigers In Red Weather where one of the principal characters, Nick, is thinking about her relationship with her husband. She muses that it was "meant to be different" for the two of them, different from the rest of the world, different from other relationships, because they were "special". I'm paraphrasing slightly, because the book went back to the library before I could make a note of the exact quote, but it was such a recognisable sentiment, and so well crafted, that I knew I was in for a treat.

I wanted to read Liza Klaussmann's debut novel ever since I saw a sampler of it in Waterstones, and for the most part it didn't disappoint. Nick and Helena are cousins, and the novel starts with them at the end of the Second World War, living together in a small apartment, poor but reasonably happy and muddling along. But this is an end rather than a beginning: Helena, whose first husband has died in the war, is moving to LA, while Nick is moving to Florida to be with her husband Hughes, back from the war and ready to continue their life together. The book passes through five rounds of narration - Nick, her daughter Daisy, Helena, Hughes and Helena's son Ed - as the family move beyond the war and into the 1950s and 60s, the action revolving around the family's summer home (Tiger House) and the tensions and secrets swirling around the family as the years pass.

The writing was wonderfully evocative without being over the top, and the feeling of the book reminded me a lot of Donna Tartt's The Little Friend in many ways - the too-hot summers, the hint of secrets and illicit relationships, the quiet despair, the children who stumble upon something that can't be undone. Plot-wise, it meandered along nicely. There are no big shocks, not even in the final section, which is meant to shed some light on the preceding events. That's not to say that it was predictable, but rather that things happened and were absorbed into the novel, rather than presented as devastating or surprising events. Imagine a slightly drunken summer evening at a glamorous old house, all champagne and lights and whispers and fleeting colourful images, and that's kind of what this novel felt like.

The ending fell a little bit flat for me - I felt that Tigers started out stronger than it finished, which is what led me to a slightly lower rating overall, despite my conviction that it was a five-star read at the start. Somehow it seems to be building up to more, and the opening narrative viewpoints felt more vibrant than some of the later ones. Nevertheless, Tigers In Red Weather is a glorious, immersing novel that oozes betrayal, lust, jealousy and family secrets, all hung on five characters who remain difficult to fathom and not always likable, but ultimately worth the ride.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

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