Through the seemingly delirious soliloquies of a cancerous patient, the author Penelope Lively reveals the love, life and adventures of the protagonist, Claudia. Claudia Hamilton is a headstrong, opinionated maverick of the twentieth century. She reveals her willful nature as a child and goes on to become a war journalist during World War II. Later, she earns wealth and repute as a historian. Now, on her death bed Claudia imagines that she is about to write a history of the world but exposes to us the story of her life instead. We witness her romances, her relationship with her daughter and adopted son, her incestuous love for her brother, her adventures in the war torn desert plains of Egypt and a lot more...
Much of the novel is set in the back drop of World War II. As Claudia is a war journalist, we encounter some gory war details through her account of the war station in Egypt. The narrative also construes numerous other historical references. However, the book is predominantly the personal memoir of a maverick and to me, not much can be gleaned from it in terms of social/historical significance.
The narrative is pithy and conversational. For the most part it is a monologue by the protagonist- a kind of dreamy self talk. But this is broken briefly in many places by a third person narrative structure.
The book opens in the end. We see the protagonist in her death bed and receive the entire story in flashback. Since the protagonist is the narrator, the events given to us are mostly colored in her perspective. But not always. Occasionally we see glimpses of Lisa's (Claudia's daughter) thoughts for her mother; Laszlo's(Claudia's adopted son) understanding of Claudia surfaces; the doctor makes some comments on Claudia's delirious condition etc. These brief interludes help the reader understand the protagonist better by placing contradictory/complimentary opinions of Claudia in close juxtaposition to her own self- image.
Overall, the story is easy going and because of the element of various unconventional romances, the novel is a gripping read.
This is a romantic novel. For people who like emotional pieces, this is a good read. But the various historical references are a little tiring because a world history reference book is needed in order to understand them all. However, this is an understandable, even necessary, evil in the book since the protagonist is a historian and intends to write a history of the world. It is only natural that her musings will contain historical allusions. While I quite enjoyed the book, I am afraid it is not a life changing piece of literature.
As a character, I was not able to empathize with Claudia- to me, she came across as a brash individual. Her feelings for her daughter and sister-in-law verge on the unkind. But again these are very personal feelings. This is just my response to her nature.
Book Reviewed By Ashmita Saha
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