Tigers In Red Weather

tigers in red weatherI had a naughty, clandestine little affair with this book, reading it when I felt I really ought to be giving my attention to other things, and these turned out to be most apt circumstances for the story. This is a novel about glamourous people with troubled, perverse and even violent undersides, doing things they shouldn’t and being forced to live with the consequences. The action takes place on a wonderful old family estate in Martha’s Vineyard and skips about in time over three key periods: the end of the Second World War, a sultry summer in 1959 and the reunion of the family in 1967. So there are many echoes and quotations from a certain kind of gin-soaked, jazz-crazed literature, shades of Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Richard Yates and the noir thriller. They combine to produce a novel that feels at once rich and familiar and yet very different and compelling.

Nick and Helena are cousins with an end-of-the-family-line feel to them. Nick is the glamour puss, a privileged and powerful woman who still longs for the indefinable more. Helena is the insecure one, who would settle for very little but seems to end up with even less. When the novel opens, they are ‘wearing their slips and drinking gin neat out of jelly jars’, contemplating the end of the war. Helena has lost one husband but is excited by the prospect of a second marriage and a move to Hollywood. Nick is longing for a reunion with her handsome Navy lieutenant, Hughes. Like many on the cusp of peace, they are anticipating an end to their troubles, when in fact they have only just begun. Both marriages get off to rocky starts; Hughes returns cold and closed up, giving the emotionally greedy Nick nothing of himself, whilst Helena’s money-grubbing husband is still fixated on his previous actress wife. From these inauspicious early starts, two children are born: Daisy, Nick’s daughter, will be all shining passion, Ed, Helena’s son, will be chilling darkness, and whilst both will do their best to get away from the duplicitous and dishonest relationships their parents have, the results will be far from successful.

The bleeding heart of the narrative is the long hot summer of 1959 when the family (with the exception of Helena’s husband who is more of a notable absence) reconvenes on the family estate. Daisy is mad keen on tennis and determined to beat her detested rival, Peaches, both in sport and love. Ed is developing warning signs in his favourite hobbies of voyeuristic spying on the locals and disembowelling mice. When the two of them come across the body of a murdered maid, the event is a symbol for all that’s wrong in their world, and a catalyst for the menacing undercurrents of thwarted emotion to rise to the surface. This doesn’t necessarily happen at once – some consequences are slow in coming, but the result is a truly gripping car crash of a tale. The plotting is excellent, as the story moves through five different narrative perspectives, each of the protagonists adding their perspectives and releasing their secrets in ways that build a clever and complex picture of events. Gradually, as the reader moves through the novel, the pieces fall into place, that summer of ’59 is rehearsed over and again, and the characters get what’s coming to them.

I confess it’s been a while since I read a book that I so did not want to put down. The only minor issue I had was with the ending, which wanted to reach for one last sensational event and over-egged the pudding a little. But I wouldn’t want to make a lot of fuss about that. There is much to enjoy in this intricate Chinese puzzle of a narrative. Vivid and atmospheric, conjuring up a wonderful portrait of mid-century America but getting down and dirty with the eternal human problems of betrayal, desire and deceit, this is a story that manages to be simmeringly hot and yet sinister and chilling at the same time. Definitely recommended for banishing the winter blues.

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20 thoughts on “Tigers In Red Weather

    • Yup, distinctly nods to TGG, and an echo of the theme, too, of having everything and it not being enough. But after that, it’s quite a lot different. I will be very interested to know what you make of it!

  1. Given the location and the ‘Ed’ are there any echoes of Chappaquiddick? Whether there are or not it certainly sounds like a book worth looking out for. Thanks.

    • Chappaquiddick does get several mentions – as the geographical location. But yes, I’d say there were echoes of the victimised woman caught up in the machinations of a more powerful man. I’d be most interested to know what you made of this if you read it!

    • Helen, I found it a very easy, compelling and pleasurable read. Not so literary as to require fifth gear of the brain, but by no means fluff, either. A good old-fashioned novel, in other words!

  2. This reminds me a little bit of The Rules of Civility or rather my reaction to it. Another setting but still somehow similar. I’m glad you reviewed it, I think I would like this very much.

    • Ooh, I’m glad you said that, as I have The Rules of Civility to read. Must bump that one up the pile, too. I think you would like this one – it has enough strong elements to keep your attention, I think, and I thought the dialogue particularly strong.

  3. I wrote “FIVE POINTS OF VIEW AND MURDER AND GIN” in my notes about this book. It sounds great. Everything about it sounds great. I must get to the library today.

    • Jenny, that pretty much sums it up! Would love to know what you think of this – I couldn’t guess in advance, but of course I hope you’d enjoy it very much!

  4. When I first saw the title of the post I mistakenly read, “Tigers In Red Leather,” and thought to myself, “Oh dear…what has Litlove gotten herself into?” Now *that* would be a book of a much different stripe! This sounds so good that I might break my New Years resolution of reading books I already have before I go out and get..one..more. I’m always looking for ways to break that resolution and now I feel totally exonerated if I do.

    • LOL! Grad, you crack me up, you really do. Yes, I can see you liking this one. It has lots of strong elements and the writing is clear and powerful. Would love to know what you think of it!

  5. I know just what you mean by having clandestine affairs with books–when you know you should be reading something else (you put it perfectly!!). I have a discount coupon and a gift card and I think I know just what I’m going to use it on–it sounds like a perfect January read (especially with such a summery cover, too). Really lovely review!

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