Review | Monday 30 July 2012
Read our Q&A with Liza Klaussmann here.
Let me first deal with two items of publicity that will inevitably precede this book – one, it is the debut novel by Herman Melville’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Liza Klaussmann, and two, it was reportedly acquired by Picador in an eight-way auction, securing the author a two-book deal and a ‘six-figure sum’.
Yet this ancestry and hype should neither encourage nor deter. Rather, readers should tackle Tigers in Red Weather because it’s actually a wonderful novel.
If you read a book for well-drawn characters you can imagine living well beyond its covers, a vivid sense of place evoked through atmospheric prose and sharp dialogue, and a story you’ll ponder long after you’ve finished, then this is your book of the season.
In a five-part narrative, each giving voice to a different character over the span of 20 years, Klaussmann takes us into a culture of wealth and excess inhabited by Nick and her cousin, Helena. The story is set in the shadow of Tiger House, a family estate on Martha’s Vineyard, and begins as World War II draws to a close and life is in transition. As rations, austerity and separations end, relationships must begin again as the characters try to find their way in the world following a time of immense turmoil.
However, their lives prove no less tumultuous, and the plot is brimming with the fabulous alcohol-soaked parties, illicit affairs, family secrets and gruesome murder that make this an escapist read worthy of a languid afternoon perched atop a beach towel.
But the real surprises to be found in this novel, and its satisfying substance, are in its quiet and measured attention to the darker side of a privileged life that will appeal to lovers of The Great Gatsby, Brightness Falls, and (dare I say it?) Downton Abbey. A literary novel with a populist heart that will leave you chilled and exhilarated.
Alison Huber is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.