I loved Tigers in Red Weather so much, I jumped at the opportunity to see author Liza Klaussmann doing a reading and be interviewed at The British Library. The interview was conducted by Naomi Wood, the Writer in Residence at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at The BL. Wood is a writer in her own right, and has an obvious love for Tigers in Red Weather and an admiration for Klaussmann. So, at 6.45pm on Monday 3rd September I bought myself a glass of wine and assembled with other “literary types” in the Bronte Room of the BL Conference Centre to hear Klaussmann read from the novel, and hear Wood ask her what we all wanted to know.
Klaussmann read beautifully. Choosing a couple of scenes at the tennis club in Daisy’s section of the novel, Klaussmann centred in on the key scene just before the younger members of the family discover a body hidden behind the country club. Hearing the text in the original American accent helped to bring it to life – it is always great to hear an author read their own work. One feels that is how it is supposed to sound.
Wood asked insightful questions that prompted Klaussmann to chat quite informally about her work and making us all laugh. She said that the murder (don’t worry, not giving anything away) creates a ‘seismic shift’ that exposes the flaws within the family – but that it is not the focus of the novel. Rather it acts as a catalyst that sets the main story in motion.
Klaussmann also spoke about her writing process. The novel is set on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, just off the coast of Massachusetts. It is a place Klaussmann knows well, having spent summers there as a child and currently having a house there; but she also lives in London, and this is where she wrote Tigers in Red Weather. While there are a few scenes in London, Florida and LA, the majority of the action occurs on Martha’s Vineyard – but Klaussmann actively chose not to write there. She and Wood agreed that being in the place you’re writing about gets you too caught up in the ‘exactness’ of it – the layout of the town, the length of the street. Being across the sea in London allowed Klaussmann to focus on her characters and create a fictional Martha’s Vineyard for them to live in.
A huge consideration for Klaussmann when plotting the novel and developing the relationships between the characters was the post-war feeling in America that you had to be grateful and happy now that the war was over – you weren’t allowed to be unhappy. Klaussmann stated that it is this search for happiness that ultimately makes the characters unhappy. Their unhappiness leads to the circumstantial destruction of each other, as they all try to be happy individually.
Tigers has been out since August, and so Wood naturally asked about the reception in the UK and the US. Klaussmann said, interestingly, that readers and critics in the US were more concerned with the likeability of the characters that those over here in the UK. To me this spoke of a cultural need to like everyone and have everyone like you in return; in the UK we’re more comfortable with accepting it if we don’t like someone or they don’t like us. That’s just my opinion.
Lastly, I smiled quite a lot at Klaussmann’s sincere recommendation of Royal Holloway as a place to study – I studied there and loved it. Well done RHUL.
After the talk we all mingled and had some more wine and I was lucky enough to meet Emma from Picador, with whom I have corresponded about Tigers, as well as Klaussmann herself, who very kindly signed my copy for me. It is lovely to meet a writer who is as likeable and charming as you hoped they would be, and Klaussmann did not disappoint. Her sense of humour and ability to relax her audience is part of why she is so great a writer, and so charming a person to meet. Her laugh is also brilliant.
Tigers in Red Weather was published in August 2012 by Picador and is available everywhere.