Book review

Review: Tiger – Polly Clark

432 pages | riverrun | fiction/literary fiction

 

I was sent a review copy of this book by riverrun in exchange for an honest review.

 

TW: drug abuse, violence

 

The digest: Tiger is a compelling study of what people and animals will do in order to survive. It’s poetic in its language and clear in its storytelling. If you are after a novel which forces you to confront your own limits and ideologies, look no further.

 

From Tiger‘s Goodreads page:

“Set across two continents, Tiger is a sweeping story of survival and redeeming love that plunges the reader into one of the world’s last wildernesses with blistering authenticity.

Frieda is a primatologist, sensitive and solitary, until a violent attack shatters her ordered world. In her new role as a zookeeper, she confronts a very different ward: an injured wild tiger.

Deep in the Siberian taiga, Tomas, a Russian conservationist, fears that the natural order has toppled. The king tiger has been killed by poachers and a spectacular tigress now patrols his vast territory as her own.

In a winter of treacherous competition, the path of the tigress and her cub crosses with an Udeghe huntress and her daughter. Vengeance must follow, and the fates of both tigers and people are transformed.

Learning of her tiger’s past offers Frieda the chance of freedom. Faced with the savage forces of nature, she must trust to her instinct and, like the tiger, find a way to live in the world.”

 

Likes

  • The plot of Tiger is split into four separate parts, all of which feel like unique mini-stories in their own right. We not only follow Frieda, struggling after a violent head injury through the use of animal-grade medicines, but also Tomas, one of a small team in the middle of Russian forest – almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world, and others. Each section explores how the characters deal with whatever life throws at them, and prompts the reader to consider how they would react. Would you let defeat wash over you or would you stand defiant against all odds? Would you isolate yourself or try to reach out?
    • The four different sections all read similarly but focus on a different set of characters and circumstances.
  • Some of the writing is simply amazing – poetic without being too flowery or obtuse. As I primarily read rather mainstream fantasy works, it isn’t often that I am presented with prose as smooth as this, and I welcomed it with open arms. Not all of the writing was like this, see below.
  • The discussion and exploration of the tigers was clearly founded in both primary and secondary research. I don’t want to ruin the novel for anyone, so I will say nothing beyond the fact that by the conclusion of Tiger, I had a much greater appreciation for the animals than I did beforehand. Of course, this is a fictional story, but the fact is that Clark’s writing lends itself so well to creating a believable narrative that I would struggle to draw the line between what one can actually expect of the big cats, and what was thought up just for this story.
  • The characters were mostly a believable bunch, and I enjoyed how Clark took time to explore most of the cast in quite some detail. We see, for example, the pride one conservationist takes in their handiwork skills, as well as how some zoo keepers were willing to risk everything (career, social lives, relationships) for their job while others weren’t.
    • Perhaps the best bit of this development and exploration is that none of it is ever given as an info-dump. Bits of information are given to us here and there, trails for us to follow if we choose to but just as easily ignored. This sort of development is the sign of a confident and skilled writer.
  • The various settings are described in a way so that their basic design can easily be conjured in one’s mind while allowing for each reader to flesh out their own idea of what goes where, and how things became what they are ‘today’. Again, this is the mark of a skilled writer, with just enough information given as to guide the reader’s imagination without limiting it.
    • I especially enjoyed the exploration of the Siberian setting, with Clark describing the environment with clarity and surety – her research clearly paid off. In addition to the physical landscape of Siberia and the conservation park in general, the author also discusses the political changes taking place over there – which again I thought she did very well.
  • I enjoyed the sheer variety and intensity of themes explored in the novel. I don’t want to spoil any of the major plot points, so I will loosely say that if you are interested to see the full gamut of human emotions – from sheer loss and desperation to euphoria, then Tiger may well be the book for you.
    • It is worth noting that a lot of the novel is devoted to exploring how women in various societal structures are disadvantages, and how one may be able to overcome these difficulties through hard work and perseverance. This was well-handled, and at no point did I feel as if a political message were being forced upon the reader.
    • Relationships are also vital to the story being told; both familial and (though to a lesser extent) romantic.

 

Dislikes

  • I found the start of the novel to be far too slow. Even with relatively short chapters (which usually spur me on to read ‘just another one’ for hours on end) I found myself looking to switch to another activity. This only lasted for the first 40-50 pages or so (and then the first 10-20 of the second part) as Clark explained her storyworld. This won’t be an issue for some people, but it heavily slowed down my reading experience.
    • The caveat here is that later parts of the novel, especially the final quarter, move along at quite some pace and really grabbed my attention.
  • Some of the characters acted in unbelievable ways. They didn’t just do things that I disagreed with but acted (on occasion) entirely contrary to what we know of them. There are two scenes in particular that have stuck with me after reading the novel, and I’m still a little frustrated. Neither had to be included in the story and they added nothing valuable to the narrative.
  • The romance is bad. Really, really bad.  Entirely predictable and boring reading. Thankfully, these parts of the book are few and far between, and never last too long.
    • The sex scenes were, as they usually are in books, cringe-worthy and awkward reading. They added nothing to the story, and as such, I think they shouldn’t have been included.

 

Conclusion: 4/5. Even taking into account the negatives of Tiger, I still think that many readers out there would enjoy it. It isn’t a quick read (at least, it wasn’t for me), but I feel now that I have a deeper understanding of the human will. I know that sounds corny, but I don’t often read books as intense as this one, and I feel all the better for having read it. Recommended.

2 thoughts on “Review: Tiger – Polly Clark

    1. Thanks 🙂 In fairness the romance takes up a tiny tiny portion of the novel, but it’s one of those things that just gets to me. I think if you love tigers then this might be worth a look, but it does take a little while for tigers to actually show up.

      Liked by 1 person

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