This post has been very kindly written by the author Emma Chapman. Emma’s debut novel, How To Be A Good Wife, is a tense psychological thriller that will be published on 3rd January 2013 by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan. Click here to see my review. Here Emma talks about her favourite book of 2012, Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann, which just happens to be on of my picks for 2012 as well!
When These Little Words asked me to contribute to the ‘Best of 2012’ blog series, I was excited. An easy and enjoyable task, I thought, seeing as I spend so much time reading. As I began to ponder the brief, only one book really stood out as the life-changing kind that would be remembered forever, a book with the rare quality of making me want to be a better writer.
Tigers in Red Weather was written by a friend, and I was thrown into turmoil, wondering if bias was clouding my judgment. Liza Klaussmann and I studied in the same eight-person masters group at Royal Holloway, and we are all still close, meeting over cocktails to discuss work in progress and myriad other things. I saw Liza’s novel, which was subject to an eight-publisher auction in August 2011, when it was in its very early stages. Of course, when I read it as a finished book, there were bound to be some feelings of nostalgia and friendship mixed in with my critical eye: perhaps it wasn’t the right book to choose for this feature.
But, whenever I went back to the title, ‘Best of 2012’, it was without a doubt the best I had read. When I tried to replace it with other titles, it didn’t feel fair. I wasn’t the only one with this opinion: the journalistic, blogger, and Amazon reviews have all been outstanding. The book has just won the Elle Best Book for 2012, and is down to a shortlist of three for the Amazon Rising Stars 2012.
During the Masters and our first nerve-wracking few meetings, showing our fiction to others for the first time, Liza’s stood out. There was a phrase she used in a short story which invoked frissons of awe and jealousy, and which I still remember word for word. A party on the island where Tigers in Red Weather is set is described as “all of it big; all of it worked over; all of it crazy salad”.
I’ve chosen to celebrate Liza’s wonderful book, not because she is my friend, but because she is a brilliant writer who has achieved something spectacular. Tigers in Red Weather explores the idea of the family as a coherent unit, challenging our notion of collective memory of events and whether we ever know the people closest to us. Through the multiple narratives, told over a time-span of twenty years, Klaussmann is able to show us the parts and let us piece together the whole: a most satisfying and frustrating experience. Like the characters, we are left wanting by our own inabilities to see outside of our viewpoint of the story being told.
Tigers in Red Weather is so much more than a ‘family-saga’. It is easy to say the book ‘explores flawed characters’ or ‘the darkness of passion’, phrases I have heard many times in the unanimously good reviews of the book, but I think it just shows the darkness that is not only found in damaged characters, but in all of us. And what Klaussmann does brilliantly is exposing that darkness through chinks in the armor the characters have built up as protection, not only from other people, but from their own view of themselves. We all want to think we are ‘good people’ who are ‘doing our best’, but those splinters of what we intuitively think will always make their way through. Klaussmann herself puts it brilliantly in Ed’s narrative, when she writes:
She was an interesting person, but she had cracks. And it was the cracks I was drawn to because they were the inside peeking out, a glimpse of what was hiding below the surface. The back fat spilling over the dress; the chewed cuticle; the smudged lipstick; the run in the stocking.
Although it pains me to identify with the psychopathic Ed, these are the things I am interested in too: the reasons I am a writer. Klaussmann shows us the underside of the characters, brilliantly revealing how they see themselves, how they are seen, and they want to be simultaneously. She keeps us at arms length, which means we can observe the goings on with a crushing inevitability: each character stumbling blindly towards their fate. Many of the Amazon reviews of the book have bemoaned that they never felt ‘close enough to the characters to care what happened to them’, but I think that is the power of the book: as in real life, we cannot get close enough to change anything.
There are so many other wonderful things to say about this book. The language used is exquisite, careful rendered, without being over-wrought. The setting is beautifully drawn, so languid and glamorous, that the darkness revealed is all the more poignant. Klaussmann makes us long to live like these characters who seem to have everything, while at the same time showing us the tragedy of their existences.
Tigers in Red Weather is a book that deserves to be celebrated and demands to be read. And although Liza doesn’t need my endorsement of it, it is simply the best book I read in 2012, and I couldn’t have given the accolade to any other book.