Tigers in Red Weather has created and is still creating rather a lot of, dare I say it, ‘buzz’ and ‘hype’ on GoodReads and the book blogs, with lots of good reviews and 4 or 5 star ratings. It is the debut novel of former journalist Liza Klaussmann, which after having read it I still find amazing. It is that good. Unsurprising that it sold to Picador and Little, Brown for ‘major’ sums.
Helena and Nick are cousins; as the book opens they are living alone together during the Second World War. Helena is about to leave for Hollywood to marry Avery Lewis, and Nick’s husband Hughes is about to return from service in London. Let’s just say neither marriage is ‘perfect’ and as time passes (the novel spans 1944 – 1969) relationships change and personalities… shift. The novel is told from five perspectives – Nick, her daughter Daisy, Helena, Hughes, and Helena’s son Ed. It jumps back and forth through time, revisiting the summer of 1959 in particular. The summer that Daisy and Ed found a dead body behind the tennis courts.
As Nick says near the end of the book, in a family there is no one universal truth. Individual perspective can entirely change how the ‘truth’ of a situation can look. The book begins with Nick’s narrative, and though she is not the central character (there isn’t one) her story is a brilliant example of how a person can change within themselves as their role in life changes over the years. From a young wife to a middle-aged mother, she remains ‘herself’ but as her role changes she acts differently; she must adapt to the expectations of those around her.
In the small holiday community of the island of Martha’s Vineyard (a place well known by author Klaussmann), everyone knows everyone else’s business and gossip is rife. The entire family are forced to adhere to social expectations and how they ‘should’ be; this adds up to a lot of repressed feelings and no one being totally honest with each other. With everyone having their own opinions but not really communicating with each other, none of the family really seem to know each other very well. After Daisy and Ed find the body of a young woman who turns out to be the maid of a local couple, no one quite knows how to deal with the situation or comfort them, and the obvious murder becomes yet another piece of gossip. Nick, Hughes and Helena worry about the children’s reactions to the body, but none of them ask how they feel or try to explain why she might have been there, dead and abandoned. Everything gets swept under the rug.
There are great moments of stillness and subtlety in Tigers in Red Weather. A look, a movement, a word or two, can give away more than intended, or simply hint at some inner turmoil unknown to the outside world. Naivety and the ‘wisdom’ of age are examined as both the parents and children age, and the calm, slow tone threaded through with flashes of emotion and urgency reminded me of Truman Capote or Donna Tartt writing about the Deep South. Klaussmann employs deceptively simple phrases to communicate depths of emotion and family history, much like Tartt and indeed Jane Austen with her literary icebergs.
I highly recommend this book. It is beautifully written, with moments of intense description and poignant characterisation. Klaussmann’s ability to move between characters and decades is truly brilliant. A simply fantastic and extremely admirable debut novel. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.